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Listen Dylan Hicks reads from his new novel
Listen Dylan Hicks performs in the Current studios
May 3, 2012
Over the years, Dylan Hicks has made his mark locally and nationally as a musician, a journalist and a critic. Now he's launching into another art form: the novel. Hicks' new book, "Boarded Windows," takes the reader on a spin through country music, modern philosophy and the trials of working in a record store.
It's the latest chapter in what for Hicks has been a mercurial career. After releasing three albums, some 45s and a couple of cassettes in the 1990s, he's devoted himself to writing. He worked at City Pages in Minneapolis, and freelanced for national publications including the New York Times and the Village Voice.
Despite all of that work with words, he's struggling to come up with an easy way to describe his novel.
Sometimes he says "Boarded Windows" contains the memories of an unnamed narrator looking back 20 years to Minneapolis in the 1990s. Things get complicated when his mother's former boyfriend Wade, who lives as a huckster and side musician, suddenly turns up at his apartment. Sometimes he went even shorter in his description.
"I said it was a book about loneliness," he said. "But that may be concise to a fault."
While the young man enjoys thinking back, he also remembers how Wade horned in on his life, and his girlfriend. Wade often overshadows him, with outlandish stories from the road with a second-string country music star called Bolling Greene, which Wade blends with ideas from philosophers he claims he's studied.
"He's often holding court with quite young people. The narrator is 20 years old and not terribly sophisticated, so Wade can go on a long monologue and not be required to uphold the utmost fidelity to the ideas he is drawing upon, because no one will know," Hicks said with a laugh.
As befits an author who is also a musician, Hicks writes with a lyrical intensity. His hero is obsessed with recalling tiny details of what happened, but freely admits to adding what may be false memories and deliberately misleading interpretation.
At one point in the story he recalls Wade taking his mother and him for a drive, opening up on a rural road until the car hits 120 mph.
"My mother's whoops and gurgling laughter filled the car despite the blasting wind and radio, and as I remember the laughter wasn't at all borrowed or obligatory. Though probably there was something movie-ish about the drive. I suppose most automotive fun carries a cinematic taint."
The novel also catches the mood of Minneapolis in the early 1990s, with part of the story set against the great Halloween blizzard of 1991. And as a story based on questionable memories, "Boarded Windows" doesn't follow a traditional narrative arc. This attracted rock writer Greil Marcus, who has long followed Hicks' work as a writer and a musician.
"It's one thing to find your own voice, it's another to create your own language, and I think that's what Dylan does," Marcus said.
Marcus says Hicks has a tremendous talent for creating really uncomfortable situations for his characters.
"Kind of skin-crawlingly uncomfortable, but he can do the same for the reader. He can make the reader feel what his characters are feeling. Maybe more than they want to," Marcus said.
The story in "Boarded Windows" also renewed an old feeling in Dylan Hicks. He hadn't written a song in years, but he became intrigued about lyrical fragments and song suggestions he'd created for his character Bolling Greene. So he began composing. Those songs are now an album called "Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene."
Hicks will launch "Boarded Windows" at a reading at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis Thursday evening. He'll then do an album release party at the Bryant Lake Bowl on Saturday. And his album is now available as a free download to anyone who buys the book.
Hicks says he'd like to combine the literary and music events more but it's not practical. He's found some people just want writing and others just music. He recounts a recent conversation at a gig with one guy who wanted to buy the album. Hicks felt honor-bound to reveal he could get it for free if he bought the book.
"So I don't want you to sell you this record and then you feel like you've been hoodwinked, or that it's a bait and switch," Hicks told him.
Hicks laughs as he remembers the response from the fan. "Nah, nah! I'm not going to buy the book."
Hicks says he appreciated the honesty.
To get a flavor for Dylan Hicks' musicianship, click here to watch him perform in The Current's studio. And watch the music video below — shot in the parking lot of the K-Mart on East Lake Street in Minneapolis.