Singer, songwriter, novelist brings work full-circleby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Over the years singer-songwriter Suzzy Roche has delighted fans with her insightful songs, and soaring harmonies. On Friday evening, she will be in Minneapolis to present something different: her new novel.
There has always been an easy way to introduce Suzzy Roche.
You just play the opening to "We" the first track on The Roches first album.
"We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzy," the song begins with the three Roche sisters singing. "We don't give out our ages and we don't give out our phone numbers," they harmonize.
Released in 1979, "The Roches" was the first album Suzzy Roche recorded with her sisters, Maggie and Terre. The band was never huge, but attracted a loyal following. They even recorded with St. Paul-based Red House Records.
Roche says she now knows more than she wants to about the music business.
"I have been on the road for 30 years," she said. "And I know what it's like to be on the road. And I know what it's like to be publicly worshiped and publicly distained."
And that's what is woven into her novel "Wayward Saints." It's the story of an alt-rocker called Mary Saint who enjoys a short incandescent period of stardom, with all the good and bad that accompanies, and then loses everything after a member of her band dies in an accident.
Roche reads a section from the book where Saint reflects on her career and its absurdities.
"Life on that thing called the road, moments of incredible freedom, laughter, possibilities; as if a person could fly, these feelings were sewn onto the agony of great humiliation, failures so extreme, so public — rave reviews and vicious dismissals — revolting, bone-chillingly cold dressing rooms; stained toilet bowls and sticky floors; dented aluminum ashtrays; cigarettes and joints; platters of curled up pieces of roast beef and melted American cheese left out in the heat for hours."
Mary ends up working in a San Francisco coffee shop amid a motley and eccentric assortment of new friends. One day she receives an invitation to return to a hometown she hasn't visited in years to play at the local high school. It will also mean reuniting with her deeply religious mother, Jean.
"It's really a mother-daughter story at the heart of the book" Roche said. "The mother is having a hard time understanding her daughter, basically."
Both Jean and Mary are very spiritual, but they distrust each other's religious views. Getting this tension into the story was important, Roche said.
"I was raised as a Catholic also, so I find as I am getting older, even though I really didn't think about Catholicism for many years, as I am aging I am really going back to thinking about how that affected my life."
The novel is dark, humorous and absurd. It looks at the toll taken by the rock lifestyle, particularly on women.
Roche said she's shared "Wayward Saints" mostly with friends, and is looking forward to her reading at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis tonight to gauge reactions.
"People will probably think it's about me, because I am a singer, and I don't know what to say about that," Roche said. "I guess all of the characters probably are me."
Roche will also sing, and to bring it full circle, has written a song based on the novel which she performs with her daughter, Lucy. She says the song allowed her another way to explore the characters' common traits.
"They are all completely flawed, and fumbling around, bumping into each other and making mistakes," Roche said. "I started to see that that was the essence of the book really and I thought 'Gee, everyone is a wayward saint,' and so I wanted to explore that in the song."
And Roche says she is already at work on another book.
"It's nice to have something at my age to be beginning," she said. "I look forward to doing another one."
And in good news to Roche's music fans, her newfound writing focus does not come at the expense of her songwriting.
- Morning Edition, 01/20/2012, 7:25 a.m.