Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Q&A with John Reed

In the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever,” John Travolta’s character Tony Manero is infatuated with Al Pacino. In John Reed’s novel, “Another Lousy Day in Paradise,” protagonist Jay Cody is obsessed with Tony Manero.

An Arlington resident for almost 30 years, Reed’s entry into the world of fiction is a coming-of-age story set in Waltham in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Cody is an anti-hero, of sorts, and not all that far removed from the author’s vision of himself as a student at Waltham High School.

“ I had the idea to write ‘Paradise’ when I was a junior in high school,” said Reed. “It is fiction, but most of the things [really] happened.”

“Paradise” chronicles the once disco-loyal Cody’s clashes with hard-rocker friends, a complicated relationship with a local police officer’s daughter and what it meant to be tough, cool and popular in the outskirts of Boston more than three decades ago.

“I look back on it and think I was damn lucky to have grown up there,” Reed said.

Reed works fulltime as a researcher at Tufts University. He is also a noted music critic, having worked as a correspondent for the Boston Globe for eight years and these days for Hear-Say magazine, among other print and online publications. Like his character Jay Cody, Reed also works as a nightclub DJ in Boston.

What inspired you at such an early age to think about someday writing a book about growing up in Waltham?

When I was a sophomore, my English teacher at Waltham High, Richard Collins, saw potential in me as a writer and really gave me my interest in literature. He was a great man and I sadly never got to tell him that I became a writer before he passed away. Then when I was a junior at WHS, I really started to take notice of the characters in Waltham and I thought it would make a great story. I still think Waltham at that time could be a great movie.

What made Waltham so special a place in the late '70s and early '80s, as compared to any other big Boston suburb?

What sets it aside was that Waltham was, and is, full of colorful people and places. The characters in my book are based on real people who were full of charisma. We were lucky to have a place called the Wal-Lex, with a roller-staking rink, bowling, pool, mini arcade, which was a big social center for us. There was a diversity of personalities and situations in Waltham during that time. But where there were good times, there were also racial tensions that made for some uneasy times for the city. For example, there was a rumble at the Wal-Lex in 1979 that made headline news. On the whole, my classmates and I… we were very fortunate to have grown up in Waltham.
What was it about "Saturday Night Fever" that made such an impression on you?

That is the only movie I can say that truly changed my life — and many other people I have known. The Brooklyn-based life of Tony Manero was exciting to a teenager and he was really an alpha-male character, one that most young guys would want to aspire to be like. The Disco scene, which I had no idea about till ‘Fever,’ was like a fantasy world — one that was really wild to a suburban teen. I wanted to go to a disco so bad that I got an ID when I was 15 and spent many a Saturday night in 1979 to 1982 in clubs on Lansdowne Street

Manero had women throwing themselves at him, he always was in control in all situations; he took no crap from anyone and was the epitome of macho. He made such an impression on me that I got my hair feathered shortly after seeing the movie and my wardrobe started including silk shirts.

I think the backlash of disco rendered the movie cartoonish in people’s popular memory — but when I tell people to watch it nowadays, they are shocked at the rawness of the characters and the storyline. If you take away the white disco suit and the soundtrack... it is an amazing New York City movie.

How do you imagine life has changed for a typical male teenager coming up now around Boston — not just including the smart-phones, cable TV and Internet?

Well I am not a parent, so I don't have firsthand knowledge, but I think all this technology — while I think it is great and makes life much easier — is cutting into social skills for younger people. Texting is not a way to get to know someone or make friends.

I think being a teen is much more difficult today. There was more of a "safety feeling" in that time in Waltham that you could never have today. I mean, there was lots of sinning going on with us teens back then, but I never felt unsafe walking the streets of Waltham any time of night. If my story took place today in Waltham, I am sure it would be an entirely different story.

How did you go about translating the stories in your mind about your teen years into a plotline for “Another Lousy Day in Paradise”?
The plotline is fictional. The stories are based on a lot of real stories, but there are fictional characters, which I needed for a storyline. It took me many, many, years and lots of re-writes before I finally got the ideas that made this a workable story.

What is satisfying for me is that some people who have read the book have compared Jay Cody to an ‘80s Holden Caulfield. I would never say that myself, but I do feel Cody is an anti-hero. He has bad traits, but he is not a horrible person; he just likes to be bad.

What do you imagine happened to Jay Cody, say, 20 years later? Or would that be giving away the plot of a potential sequel?

Great question! Cody's future most likely will be covered in a sequel. I hope he will be doing well...but you never know with him.

As a music critic, what do you look for that makes a release or live act successful?

Energy and attitude: If you have that, you don't have to play amazing guitar, bass, drums or even be an amazing singer. Too me, The Who is the greatest live band ever as they took the rock show to an art form. Not by using lasers or dry ice or lights shows — though they were the first band to use lasers in their stage show — but they just embodied everything that a great live band should be. I personally have been to over 700 live shows as a music journalist and no one could touch The Who as a live band. The Sex Pistols were a close second, though I didn't see them till their reunion tours in 1996 and 2003, but they had all the spirit of The Who. And while Johnny Rotten is nowhere near the singer or performer that Roger Daltrey is, his attitude makes up for any lack of singing ability and that is why he is one of Rock’s best front-men ever.

What is it about writing that you obviously enjoy so much?

My head never stops. I have ideas 24/7, which is not always fun! I find it much better to express myself by writing them. And when I start to write, I come up with things that, when I read them years later, I wonder how I ever thought of them. I am fortunate that I had a person like Mr. Collins, and my mother, too, who always encouraged me to write and who believed in me as a writer.

People seem to pay more attention to you and your ideas when you write them down. You can have the best imagination and ideas in the world — if you don't write them down, then it's a waste of talent.

Read more: Q&A with John Reed: Mean streets of Paradise - - The Arlington Advocate http://www.wickedlocal.com/arlington/news/x1587957521/Q-A-with-John-Reed-Mean-streets-of-Paradise#ixzz1vVnwjY2P

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