Flanagan’s empire

By MICHAEL ATCHISON  |  February 5, 2010

YOU'VE HAD UNIQUE ACCESS THROUGH YOUR CAREER, AND YOU'VE EXPERIENCED A LOT OF THESE TIMES AND PLACES FIRSTHAND. BUT YOU WEREN'T IN LONDON IN THE LATE 1960S. HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO CAPTURE THAT MOMENT SO FULLY? I turned that over in my head a lot — what was the earliest point I could be comfortable writing about London? I was born in 1955. I was certainly following rock and roll very closely by 1968 or 1969. I first went to London in 1971 for a youth fair. So I didn't miss it by that much. And I know dozens of people who were there then, and I've listened to those stories so much that I felt it was close enough. One fellow I know, a very distinguished elder statesman of the music business, started out as a go-go dancer on Ready Steady Go! He was one of the guys paid to do the shing-a-ling while the Kinks were playing. I sent the London pages to a couple of British friends who were there, and had them read through and tell me where I had something wrong.

IN THE 1980S, PROVIDENCE'S FAVORITE LOCAL BAND WAS THE SCHEMERS, LED BY MARK CUTLER AND EMERSON TORREY. IT'S NO COINCIDENCE THAT THE BOOK'S MAJOR ROCK STAR IS NAMED EMERSON CUTLER. They're two friends of mine who I always thought had the coolest names of any rock musicians I'd ever met. So I put them together. It was the sound of their names and an inside nod to a couple of pals.

I ASSUME THEY WERE FLATTERED. I don't think they've read the book yet. I've seen each of them and said, "Hey, man, I named my new character Emerson Cutler." And they each had the same reaction: "Well, that's half a good name."

I KNOW YOU HAD SPECIAL AFFECTION FOR RONNIE LANE [BASSIST AND SONGWRITER FOR BRITISH ROCKERS THE FACES, WHO SUCCUMBED TO COMPLICATIONS FROM MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS IN 1993]. HOW MUCH OF HIM IS IN CHARLIE LYDLE? There's more of Ronnie Lane in Charlie than there is of any other real person in any character in the book. But still, I wasn't going to be obligated to have Charlie do things Ronnie would have done. I wasn't writing a book about Ronnie.

THAT'S CLEAR. RONNIE WAS A MORE SOPHISTICATED, MORE SUCCESSFUL PERSON OVER THE LONG HAUL THAN CHARLIE. That's right. After the Ravons, Charlie never really gets his feet back on the ground again financially or career-wise. There are a couple of people who went into Charlie, too. But Charlie speaks with Ronnie Lane's voice. The way Charlie talks is pretty close to the way Ronnie talked. And things Charlie says, most of the time, are things I could imagine Ronnie saying.

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