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DarkEcho Horror
Blowgun by Rick Berry
Interview
Greg Kihn: Confessions of an American Wildman
by Greg Kihn

First appeared in
DarkEcho: 10.22.98 [V.5 #42]

Introduction:
This isn't exactly an "interview" -- unless you consider the answer to a single question and interview. Whatever it is, it's good reading.

Greg Kihn is the only horror writer I know who has had hit records, recorded a couple of dozen albums, has been parodied by Weird Al Yankovich, has his own successful radio show, who -- well -- Kihn's unique. Back in the fall of 1998 when -- in light of the publication of his third novel, BIG ROCK BEAT and the paperback releases of his first two -- I asked him for an email interview. The result was the answer to the question: "Just how DID a rock and roll musician became a novelist?" (And a secondary one about advice for writers.)

So, here's Greg Kihn speaking for himself. If you knew him, you'd also know it's not something you can really prevent him from doing -- or ever really want to.

There's a 1999 HorrorOnline interview that appeared a few months later based on much the same material as well as some additional information from Kihn (and some of a certain "fish story" nor included here.) You'll find reviews of Horror Show (1996), Beat Rock Beat (1998) andMojo Hand (1999) on this site. Kihn also pops up in the 1997 OMNI Dark Thought Music And The Horror Beast. -- PRLG

Confessions of an American Wildman
by Greg Kihn

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.

It would be misleading to say that a novel is like a song. The best songs write themselves, but a novel is a tall drink of water that takes hundreds of hours of work. But 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.

Greg Kihn 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 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.

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, and I won three things that changed my life: a stack of albums, an electric guitar, and ironically, a typewriter.

Beserkley label 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. It was from our seventh album ROCKIHNROLL. (All the album titles in those days were terrible puns on my name. I swear it wasn't my idea.) "Jeopardy" happened a few years later, about the same time MTV was getting off the ground. The video for the song 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 an interesting alternative. As a result it got tons of airplay and became an international hit. I toured the world.

Greg Kihn 1981 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 okay 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.

Horror Show CD I was staring into the unshaven face of a major career change, when several key people stepped into the picture. On the music side of it, Joel Turtle --an old friend who had been one of the original partners in Beserkley Records took over managing a music career that was going nowhere at the speed of sound. With his help, the light at the end of the tunnel became visible and I began to crawl toward it. Jack Heyrman, with whom I'd grown up, suggested I come back home and record the album I'd always wanted in his state-of-the-art recording studio. The result was a critically acclaimed CD, MUTINY, 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.

As for the writing -- It took years to get an agent, then another few years to find an editor who liked my work. Lori Perkins became my literary agent in 1992. She put me on the right course to becoming a serious novelist then procured my first contract: a two book hardcover deal with Tor/Forge. Natalia Aponte at Tor read SHADE OF PALE, the first novel I wrote, and wanted to publish it, but then read HORROR SHOW, the second, and wanted that one too. She felt HORROR SHOW would be a better debut novel. I wrote BIG ROCK BEAT immediately after SHADE was published, and sent Natalia an early draft. She thought it was the best one yet and Tor exercised their option for a third book.

HORROR SHOW, a very strange story about a guy who makes low budget horror movies in the 50's...using real corpses, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel and got rave reviews. It sold very well for a first novel -- 15,000 copies hardback, about 60,000 paperback. SHADE didn't do as well, but was respectable. BIG ROCK BEAT so far is doing better than both of them. I'm proud of the sales. I work hard to promote 'em.

Editorially, Natalia Aponte spent hours on the phone talking me down from the ledge on the first books. My agent's partner, Peter Rubie, was also some early help. Dean Koontz gave me some advice as well (I met him at a book signing and he took a shine to me). Everything was learned hands-on, in the battlefield. I did everything myself, and learned and understood each and every lesson. BIG ROCK BEAT needed very little editing, so I must be getting better. I spend countless hours on this, and I intend to get it right. I guess it was Natalia who encouraged me to find my own voice.

cover Between the years 1990-1997, when I was basically re-inventing 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 AM, about the time I used to go to bed. The show on KFOX in San Jose is kicking ass and we're talking about syndication in the near future. Nobody's noticed the fact that I don't know what I'm doing...yet.

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.

In addition to the novels, two short stories -- "The Great White Light" and "Olivia In The Graveyard With Pablo" were published in the Hot Blood anthology series. I'm nearly finished the sequel to BIG ROCK BEAT, it's called MOJO HAND. Tor is very interested in publishing it as are several other houses, so it's too soon to say. It will be completed by the first of the year and ready for a publishing date of next October. The book after that is ONE ARM TAN, then THE MEMORY MAKER. All of them contain rock and roll elements mixed with dark fantasy. I'm editing an anthology of short stories by musicians, featuring new fiction by people like Kinky Friedman, Ray Davies, Judy Collins, Beck, Pete Townsend, and Grace Slick. Lori Perkins is very close to closing a deal with a major publisher, but I can't say any more about it right now.

The Greg Kihn Band still plays when it feels like it. Only the cherry gigs nowadays. It's more fun now that the pressure's off. I just love to play. We jump on a plane once or twice a month and do some shows. My son, Ry Kihn, plays lead guitar. King Biscuit just issued a live CD from some vintage shows when Joe Satriani was in the band. "The Breakup Song" was featured in the movie "Beautiful Girls". I did a track on the Springsteen tribute, THUNDER ROAD, and "Jeopardy" is the theme song to the new MTV Jeopardy game show. I'm just too busy to go back into the studio until next year, but will record again as soon as time permits. Right now, writing gets the time I used to spend doing music.

Poe's Grave You asked me for advice for aspiring writers: Don't worry so much about technique, just tell a good story. Don't get bogged down trying to be someone else, just be yourself. The writing you can learn. It's a craft, like playing the guitar. The more you do it, the better you get. The story is the thing, it's always been. I say write it even if it sucks. Then keep writing, and keep spewing out ideas until one day it doesn't suck, then you know you're making progress. Overly simple but true. I love writing, I can't type fast enough.

One last thing: just before I sent the original manuscript of HORROR SHOW to Tor, 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.

Rock on! -- Greg Kihn


There's info on The Greg Kihn Band at The Greg Kihn Band Page and on Kihn at the KFOX site.


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Copyright © 1998 by Greg Kihn; 2002 by Paula Guran All Rights Reserved.