29 December 2011

Q&A with Jonnie Comet, about 'Love Me Do'





When did you first begin writing Love Me Do?

  When I was 15 I had a dream in which I took a girl, on whom I had a crush, to the movies via a Honda Trail-70 minibike.  The details were so crystal-clear when I woke up that I wrote it all down.  That became the genesis of this story, a series of romantic adventures about two people who belong together and somehow aren't together... yet.  Throughout  high school I dabbled with concocting further episodes and sometime around 1985 I finalised the plot, truncating later scenes for further volumes (now known as It’s Only Love and All You Need Is Love).  To say the book emerged from dreams is therefore accurate; but its purpose was always intended to be more than that, an actual, viable novel for people to read.

Just how autobiographical is this story?

  Ah! --this question!  First of all the character of Jonathan isn’t really supposed to represent me but is rather a kind of ideal of that time.  In appearance he resembles much more a guy in high school whom I envied more than he does me; but I did have an Italian-craftsman father and a college-educated mother and was raised in fine and performing arts.  I did not have a very cool car; though I wanted a ‘57 Chevy convertible and so Jon mentions such a preference in the story. I did play in a Beatles-based band; but it was not a very successful one at that time.  Mostly I spent my time, as Jon does, playing billiards with friends, playing music and daydreaming about girls.  But it is true that many of the school antics-- such as a guy walking into class with a guitar, the teasing of the cute literature teacher, the cutting class and smoking in the study hall-- are based on real events in which I was involved.

How much is the character of Jeanne based on a real person?

  She looks like someone I once knew; she says some similar things and has similar relationships with her friends.  Mostly it ends there.  Every writer uses some sort of muse to devise a character, quite often more than one.  Rather than coming from a single person, the character of Jeanne embodies many facets of many people I have known, because she has to fit into a storyline I have devised and a purely real person can’t do that.  But I did deliberately pay homage to many real-life characters of my youth, both initially, when they inspired the story, and much later, when I edited it to include some nostalgia.  Funnily enough, ‘Jeanne’ resembles most of all my own daughter, which is eery considering the book was in its finished form before Mary was six months old.  But she is a big fan of the book and may have taken examples from it herself!

In what way is the book a chivalric romance?

  Chivalry is all about ideals.  The ideal woman and the ideal man enact traditional roles based on virtue and respectability.  This isn’t old-fashioned-- virtue never really goes out of style.  I believe that deep inside of everyone is a heartfelt wish that people would always be honest and affectionate towards each other.  Jon readily accepts the part of the knight-errant because he views Jeanne as a pure princess whom he can deserve only by proving his merit.  For much of the book Jeanne is only a conventional girl (of the 1970s); but once she gains a closer look at what makes Jon live and breathe she realises that in order to see her dreams come true she has to let go the peer pressure and be the ideal that he believes she is.  This is character-building for both of them.  Also the story is not told very metaphysically but rather Platonically, focussing on the Ideal rather than ‘the real’, which is a theme of Gatsby as well.  It’s a story about what should be, not necessarily what is; but that doesn’t mean all of this stuff couldn’t really happen, if people’s minds and hearts were inclined to it.  And we might have a much nicer world if they were.

What is the significance of the cover artwork?

  We [at Surf City Source] choose to not do a proper cover layout but to go with a scan of artifacts I happened to have lying about.  Some of it belongs to my daughters-- the handwritten paper on Kant is Mary’s.  The hall pass and band tickets we made up-- including an egregious error in the dates! --because there was no room in the story itself to add this kind of pulp to the fiction that is Wilshire, Connecticut.  The dirty yellow card at the bottom is the instructions for changing the water pump on my ‘68 Buick convertible.  The literature test underneath it all is my own British-lit final from the last week of 12th year; I found it in my school yearbook.  There is a photo of Badfinger as well as a tract about how to avoid giving in to your boyfriend before you’re ready.  The half-dollar is one I have always had and used for the good-luck coin under the mast step of my (1974) boat.  I thought things like these would seem amusing and relevant.

Why were so many song-lyrics passages included in the novel?

  Originally the book had much more; but as the Northern Songs catalogue changed hands in the ‘80s the Beatles lyrics became harder to use.  I wanted readers to get the sense of being in the audience, witnessing the performances in the same linear way.  There is a particular dynamic that accompanies live music that doesn’t come across through a mere narrative description.  Using lyrics paints a mood picture and takes up time as well, which is a key definition of all music.  Not only must you sit through one part before another happens, but you can predict when the next part will come.  This calculated delay of revelations or action was a major element I wanted to include in the book.
  Also the book was intended to depict a certain zeitgeist of the 1970s, in the same way that Gatsby does for the 1920s, and both books use popular music of the day, as well as details about cars, fashions, shows, news and prevailing attitudes to convey this.

In what way do you believe Love Me Do is relevant in the 21st century?

  A society is nothing without an awareness of its history.  Love Me Do illustrates what high-school life was like before mobile phones and the Internet.  You just couldn’t be in-touch and in-the-know as much as you can be today; and so the absence of information about your friends or your crushes was a day-to-day reality.  I believe that, because of this, in past times love was a more precious thing, more meaningful when you felt it, found it, admitted it and announced it.  It wasn’t altered by the next text-message.  I would like to think that people of a romantic inclination will read this book, appreciate that and perhaps adapt their modern lives a little to allow for some surprise, some longing, some shock and even some heartache.  A slower pace like this can enhance love; and love and friendship should not be as cheap as they are today.  As with Regency romances and any other dated books, Love Me Do illustrates how things once were and could even be again; and I would like readers to recognise that and to enjoy it.


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