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A Novel Idea: Mick Jagger and Rick Wagner

At some point in our lives, we think that we’re going to do something that will bring us fame and recognition. Or others will think that for us. We’ll be the next big stand-up comic, because we make the occasional witty observation about life. Or we’ll write a blockbuster novel, maybe with some big ideas and complex characters, which will become ripe for filming.

Not unlike Brian, sometime in the late 1990s, I began work on a novel that I never finished, and for which I never came up with a satisfactory title. It also disappeared when my first computer’s hard drive crashed in 2000. I eventually abandoned the idea, which gave way to another story about a teenage vampire. I had a title for that one: Love’s Bitter Taste (as in Sie sagen, daß die Liebe bitter schmecke), with her “turning” set to this. (Look out, Stanley Kubrick!) It was eventually left to languish. Ultimately, I abandoned it for various sparkly reasons. I had even named the protagonist “Isobella,” but decided to change it to “Isadora” (as in the dancer) when I found out that someone else had beaten me to it. At least “Kecksburg” wasn’t taken for a surname.

In some ways, my earlier untitled story reflected my interest in the frisson between “classical” and “popular” realms, but with a few twists. The central protagonist is a nebbish named Julian, who likes classical music. He improbably hooks up at university with Daphne, the daughter of a famous rock star. The conceit is that she wants to date someone “normal,” maybe even a bit different from Daddy. The story was to end bittersweetly, with external spring break flings driving a wedge between the two. Catalysed by Daphne’s decision to pursue opportunities in California, they eventually decide to break up quite amicably. In the cinematic version, that scene would have been set to the final trio from Der Rosenkavalier.

Sandwiched between the beginning and the end is a kind of comedy of manners. The classically-oriented Julian dutifully researches the background story of Nick Paganer, Daphne’s father and frontman for a band that has been around since the 1960s. Since his much-older brother is a fan of the band, Julian tries getting some insights from him as well. Conversely, when Daphne brings Julian to Paganer’s primary residence to meet her family, her father plays Ludwig van Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto as a courtesy to Julian. Part of it comes from his own insecurities about status (See? I can be classy and refined, too.), but he has a genuine affection for the music as well. He also claims to have been one of Stanley Kubrick’s final choices to play Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

Paganer is married to his second wife, Galaxia. Just a few years older than Daphne, she is the daughter of Kevin Roberts, Paganer’s guitarist, best friend, and sometime archnemesis. Paganer also aspires to build a stadium near his home, dedicated solely to concerts by the band. For more practical reasons, he wishes to settle down and minimize the need to travel, while somehow trying to maintain his “ee-mage” as an itinerant rebel against the status quo. This is the most recent bone of contention for Paganer and Roberts, which Julian has to deal with diplomatically during the course of his visit.

Depending on your musical knowledge, you probably picked up on some of the allusions made in the synopsis. Nick Paganer is a hybrid of Mick Jagger and Richard Wagner. From that connection, it should be easy to figure out the hash of other allusions and parallels. My central point of this abandoned fictional work is similar to my current research agenda: we are conditioned to perceive musical genres as very different on the surface, even though there are deeper similarities among specific aspects of specific pieces from them (whether musical or extra-musical). In this case, I was thinking about the common traits that can be found in certain musicians of various genres. Egomania. Super-stardom. The tinge of scandal and controversy. The Mephistophelian air. The sense of being larger than life, rising in some way above the mundane; While we’re at it, why not bring in Lisztomania?

Paganer doesn’t get into the anti-Semitism of his operatic counterpart, but it is interesting to note that Jagger’s own friend and nemesis Keith Richards has had an interest in Nazi imagery. Certainly, there might be parallels between autocratic regimes’ rallies and how audiences can get whipped into a frenzy during rock concerts, but that would require a more learned analysis of the nuances than I’m interested in addressing here. (I can about predict what Teddy Adorno would say.) Perhaps someday, I’ll work on the novel and use it as a fictional complement to my research. But for now, thousands of pages of readings are calling, along with numerous tunes. As Mr. Jagger himself said…

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