T.C. Boyle is the author of 15 books, including the novels Water Music, World's End and The Road to Wellville. His latest, Drop City, was nominated for a National Book Award last year. Boyle's fiction is known for its wit, biting satire, historical sweep and verbal pyrotechnics. For Intersections, a Morning Edition series on artists and their influences, Boyle tells reporter Tom Vitale that his literary reputation owes much to rock 'n' roll.
Writing to Rock
Lyrics from Bruce Springsteen's 'Spirit in the Night' inspired Boyle's short story 'Greasy Lake.' Van Morrison's 'Mystic Eyes' plays a central role in one scene in 'Drop City.' Listen to 30-second excerpts of both songs: 'Spirit in the Night' 'Mystic Eyes'
Boyle says that somewhere inside him lives a trapped rock star, crying to get out: "I think every writer of my generation and down is only writing because we can't have our own rock bands."
Boyle did have his own rock band for a while in the 1980s, when he sang lead vocals with a group called The Ventilators. But by then, Boyle was already an established writer; music was just recreation. It wasn't always that way. Growing up, Boyle wanted to be a musician. But a poor audition for his college's music major program led him to explore other fields.
Boyle began writing at the height of the 1960s, when rock dominated the culture. Music soon infused all aspects of Boyle's work. The characters and settings in one of Boyle's best-known stories, "Greasy Lake," were directly inspired by Bruce Springsteen's "Spirit in the Night," a song about an all-night party with bikers and rockers at a local hang-out. And in Drop City, the Van Morrison song "Mystic Eyes" is used to underscore the novel's central conflict between a hippie commune in Alaska and the locals they incense.
But Boyle says his work owes more to rock than mere lyrics: "Somehow, the sense of rhythm has infected my work. Anyone who hears me read aloud will understand the importance to me of rhythm."
And Boyle's hip, edgy public persona was also shaped by rock 'n' roll.
"It's true that this kind of cocky attitude that the bands presented… that is sort of how I approached the media myself, when finally I got attention as a writer," he says.