Transcript for Suzzy Roche on "Wayward Saints"

Jim Fleming:  Some creative people express themselves through music.  Others pour their vivid imagination into novels, and there are still others who do both, like Suzzy Roche.  She's best known as one of the founding members of the folk-rock trio The Roches, along with her sisters, Maggie and Terry.  But Suzzy Roche has turned her attention from writing songs to writing fiction.  She's just published her first novel, Wayward Saints.  It's the story of Mary Saint, the former troubled lead singer of the rock band Sliced Ham.  How much of an adjustment was it for Roche to go from stage to the page?  

Suzzy Roche:  You know, it's much more solitary writing a book, obviously, and it's much longer to write a book, and there's a story and a visual element.  It's almost like watching a movie, writing a book, watching it in your own little brain or dreaming it up, or something like that.  But then again, I was trained as an actress and I also think that my songs are kind of character-driven most of the time anyways.  So, in that way there were similarities.

Fleming:  So you've been creating characters to sing about all this time.  One of the differences I would think is that writing songs, there's a more immediate feedback, there's more involvement, maybe because they're shorter.  I don't know, because you can sing them to somebody, you can't exactly read a chapter of your novel to your sisters, can you? 

Roche:  No, it's a big commitment for someone to read a book.  It's a lot shorter if they listen to a song.  Someone has to be willing to go into an entire world, an alternate universe.  I think it's harder these days for people to concentrate that much on an entire book.  

Fleming:  On the other hand you talk about being a character on stage.  You were trained as an actress you said.  Are you, when you perform on stage, someone in addition to yourself?

Roche:  Yes.  I've always thought of it that way.  I've always acted like a singer.  I think that part of my job is to entertain people on stage, and so I'm not particularly that entertaining in my regular life.  Actually, I'm kind of shy.  So, I always approached it as a character.

Fleming:  Was it appealing to you because of that to move that world into a world of fiction away from the world of performance?

Roche:  Yes.  Well, I wanted to write about faith, really.  And that's what I think is at the heart of my novel.  But, I did want it to have a sort of fantastical world, and I think the world of rock and roll is totally absurd, and it, it sort of meshes very nicely with the world of faith because there is an unreality about both things.  

Fleming:  Well, and we're always told to write about what we know, and certainly you know the world of, of performance.  I'm not sure the world you describe in Wayward Saints is one that I think of The Roches as inhabiting.

Roche:  Yes.  The Roches were a folk band, you know, we were not rock and roll like Mary Saint is.  I wanted to write about a girl rocker-chick.  Somebody like maybe Eminem, you know, who, who I think is brilliant but, you know, a lot of people won't even listen to him because of the language he uses or what they think he might be talking about.  And I think that's very similar to the issues of faith and God.  Some people are just totally turned off by the whole subject.  So, again, those two things were parallel and I needed to create a character who was so extremely objectionable to some people, and that's what I tried to do with Mary.

Fleming: Well, it's interesting to hear you talk about those worlds running parallel to each other because it is hard to imagine faith in the rock and roll world of Mary Saint.  Part of what you've done in the novel is to bring faith into her life, but also to have, a sort of parallel story of her mother going on at the same time.

Roche:  Yes, I, I think that the perception that her mother has of her, she's almost afraid of her daughter, and the behavior that she has, you know, adopted, and, and Jean Saint, the mother, is a very religious Catholic and almost everything about Mary, her daughter, goes against that.  So, it's very painful.  Plus mother and daughter and the father who was an abusive father in their family, you know, they've all suffered a, a big pain.  I wanted the two characters to approach healing from their separate corners, really.

Fleming:  Maybe the best way to get an, an idea of the main character, Mary, is to have you read a little bit of the story.  Do you have a section that you could read and could you introduce us to it?

Roche:  Yes.  This section is sort of mid-way through the book when we first really meet Mary, and this is after her band has, the star has risen and crashed and she is left in her own life with no friends, no business relationships anymore, and she's sort of just stunned at what has happened to her and she's sitting at her kitchen table remembering her life on the road. 

(READING)  The memories of what her life once was were absurd, adventures on that thing called the road.  Sometimes it seemed as if a person could fly, but the humiliations and the failures were so extreme, so public.  Rave reviews and then viscous dismissals.  All those stained toilet bowls and sticky floors.  Freezing dressing rooms.  Dented aluminum ashtrays overflowing with cigarettes and joints.  Platters of curled up salami and wilted American cheese.  Bottles of tequila with worms at the bottom that were supposed to be swallowed.  Posters of bands, mostly guys in leather pants, their crotches bulging, hairy arms inked with tattoos of girls and dragons.  Photographs of herself posing with electric guitars in ridiculous outfits that she had thought she ought to  wear.  Ripped stockings, garter belts, and makeup like warpaint.  Attitudes, her own, and everyone else's.  

Songs that she wrote from the heart and what they actually turned out to be.  Who people thought she was and who she really was.  Who she thought she was and who she turned out to be.  Fans cheering, we love you Mary Saint, Sliced Ham, Sliced Ham.  It had been a long tilt-a-whirl ride.  The predictable cliches.  Hotel lobby's.  Airport bars.  And the exquisite uniqueness of those same cliches.  The world was a carnival.  The ghoulishness.  The costumes.  The buffoons.  The down-and-out, drug-laden, liquor-soaked, good old times.  The goofiness.  The innocence.  The mistakes and cruelties.  The magical shows.  The mixture of fakery and truth.  The sadness and the laughs.  All the things that people used to say about her.  To her.  The things that she had said, shooting her mouth off, hurting herself and others.  Being cheered on like a pitbull in a ring.  All of this led up to the death of Anthony, the even that had cut her life in half and ended his.  This is what she remembered of herself.  She'd wrestled with her lover until he fell to his death off the balcony of a hotel room.  Why?  Because in the end, someone in a newspaper said she was fat and stupid.  She had lost herself along the way.  This was all she had to go on.

Fleming:  It's an extraordinary description.  In some ways it's almost like she's looking back at a novel of somebody else's life isn't it?

Roche:  Yeah, and I do think that that does happen to people when they get successful.  When you're successful it happens very quickly.  You just get on get on the train and you don't stop until one day, it's always gonna end, you know, there's never gonna be just a constant trajectory of success.  There's ebbs and flows.  And, and with her.  It was over.  The day it was over, it was over.  And I think that happens to a lot of people in this business.

Fleming:  The, the act of writing this was more inward, more personal, but it's about a world which is more outward, and I suppose that the world of performance does rely on other people more.

Roche:  Yes.  It, it's mysterious what makes somebody popular.  There are some people who are so talented they could do everything and for some reason they don't have an audience.  And then there's someone like Mary Saint, who has this kind of inexplicable talent.

Fleming:  In your mind, I know we've talked a little bit about the difference between song-writing and novel-writing, but I'm really fascinated by whether the well of creativity is the same in both. Somewhere those characters live and you have to find them to write about them, don't you?

Roche:  Yes, and I, I think again, that's where the issue of faith comes in.  It's similar to writing a song, if you sit there and put the time in something will come out, and it may not be what you thought would happen.  It's almost like going to a river and fishing or something.  There's a river where this stuff comes from and for me it's very mysterious.  I hardly ever feel that I've done something, created something by myself.   

Fleming:  I'm curious about the, also about the creativity involved.  In song-writing, because you have to be pithy, it doesn't give you much time to flesh out characters, does it?  Whereas a novel demands that you fully realize characters.

Roche:  Yeah, yeah.  In that way they're really opposite and, in fact, after I wrote Wayward Saints, I wrote the song for Wayward Saints.  I was curious to see what would the book be if it was a song?  And I guess the difference is that you take the essence out of the thing.  It's almost like squeezing an orange and getting the juice out of it.  When I finally wrote the song I said, oh, that's what the book is about.   And I thought that was an interesting reversal, to go from the book to the song. 

 

(SONG LYRICS) What's a matter baby?  You look sad and lonely.  Like you're about to fall apart.  Why not look me in the eye?  Tell me the reason why.  You don't trust anyone.  Your crooked path and fall from grace.  A shadow cast all over the place.  You're cracked up but you're holy too. Hurt because you're black and blue.  Don't worry child, ever while, the stars are chipped in silver paint.  You're a wayward saint.  That's all.  A wayward saint. That's all.  A wayward saint.

Fleming:  That's Suzzy Roche, along with her daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche performing Song for Wayward Saints.  Suzzy Roche is the author of Wayward Saints.

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