On Golden Earring
I never begin a novel without first coming up with a title.
Okay, a working title.
Once I settle on it, I create a front page, and that’s where I begin each day’s writing session.
That said, not all my titles have survived the cut, not by a margin. But it’s a routine, and I’m sticking to it.
When I began writing THE DOLL MAKER the working title was DOLLS. I knew that there were a lot of similarly titled works over the years, and that this one would most likely change, but every morning I looked at that word, and it not only informed the narrative, but also fueled it.
After coming up with a title, I then try to find an epigraph to put at the front of the book. I feel, at times, that epigraphs are selected by authors for other authors, not necessarily the reader. Still, no matter how unlikely it is that I will get permission to use the quote, I do it anyway.
Allow me to rewind for a moment to my adolescence, which began somewhere after the dawn of color TV, but before the moon landing.
After the first British wave, everyone in my home town knew the Beatles and Rolling Stones, of course, as well as the Kinks, the Animals, the Who, the Hollies, the Yardbirds, the Searchers, the Small Faces. To a lesser degree, at least as far as U.S. album sales were concerned in those early years, there was Fleetwod Mac, Savoy Brown, and Ten Years After.
Then there were the rest of us, a small coterie of rabid Anglophiles who charted and listened to the groups mentioned above, but were also ever on the prowl for the new British rock gods.
We could not wait to get the latest editions of Melody Maker (already three weeks behind when it landed), and New Musical Express (usually a month). Didn’t matter. I recall many a Saturday afternoon sitting on a bench on Cleveland’s Public Square, just across from Schroeder’s (one of the two places in town to carry these papers), devouring every word, every comma, every picture, every listing, every ad. Even the ink smelled foreign and exotic. By the time I got off the bus near my house I could tell you who was booked at the Marquee on London’s Wardour Street for the next two months.
In those days, if it was a sleek import LP, we sold our souls to get it. Yes, imports were much more expensive, but they were glossy, they came in clear plastic sleeves, and sometimes they included songs that were not on the American release.
It was on the pages of Melody Maker and New Musical Express that I first came across the bands that would become my passion for many years to come: The Groundhogs, The Move, Chicken Shack, Taste, Roxy Music, Pretty Things, The Deviants.
Somewhere in the early ‘70s somebody went to Toronto, and came back with a handful of albums by unknown (to us) artists. Around midnight on a summer Saturday, substances in flow, he put on the last of his acquisitions, selecting a random cut.
Seconds later, when I heard those hard driving chords, and then — incredibly — a flute, I knew that this band was going to be part of my life.
The song was “Back Home.” The band was Golden Earring.
We listened to the album, start to finish, then put it on again. And again. I don’t think any of us said a word for three hours. This was a revelation, a true nugget, if you will, certainly one of the greatest unsung British bands of all time.
But they weren’t British. They were Dutch.
From that day forward, tracking down everything Golden Earring had ever recorded became an obsession.
Only one of our group had the chops to trade on an international level. A rabid collector, he subscribed to the Bible of record collecting at the time, Trouser Press, and corresponded with a counterpart in Holland.
He struck a deal. Packages crossed the Atlantic.
I was at my friend’s house the day the mailman delivered the box from Holland. We didn’t expect much. We were wrong.
Inside were pristine copies of Seven Tears, Together, Miracle Mirror, and Eight Miles High. We hadn’t heard any of it. Four new Golden Earring albums on the same day! So many great songs: “Buddy Joe,” “Cruising Southern Germany,” “She Flies on Strange Wings,” “All Day Watcher,” “Thousand Feet Below You,” “From Heaven From Hell.”
Not long after, when Golden Earring took the world by storm with “Radar Love,” my friends and I looked on like doting parents.
On the first album I encountered (the eponymously titled Golden Earring) there was a haunting composition called “The Wall of Dolls.” Here are the first four lines:
This is the wall of dolls
Secret world of smalls
Look at them all my friend
You’ll be one of them in the end.
When I decided to write a thriller about dolls, there was no debate, not a moment’s hesitation, as to the quote I would put up front during the process.
When THE DOLL MAKER went into production I knew the time was drawing near. What a lot of people who are not in this business might not realize is, unless the epigraph is in the public domain (which is why we see so many quotes from the Bible), it falls upon the author, not the publisher, to pay for permission to use the quote.
My fabulous team at Little, Brown tracked down Golden Earring’s publisher, and sent to me the name and email address of the contact person.
That night I wrote a letter outlining not only the quote I wanted to use, and the basic narrative of the story, but also my forty year love affair with the music of Golden Earring.
I put my contact info in the email, hesitated many minutes before hitting the Return key, and eventually sent it.
Hours passed. Days.
Ah, well. You can’t win if you don’t play, n’est-ce pas?
On the fifth day, while reading an eBook on my iPad late at night, I heard the sound that accompanies incoming email.
I opened the app, looked at the new message. The From line read: Barry Hay.
My first thoughts were of my old friends, surely winding me up. Barry Hay is, of course, the lead singer of Golden Earring.
I read the note; just a few brief lines. It really was from Barry Hay. In it he said, simply: okay. I had permission to use the quote.
Just like that.
I’m not sure I’ve come down yet. The novel is now in print, and the quote from “The Wall of Dolls” is up front, right where it’s been since the day I began crafting the story.
As I write these words I am looking at both the book and the album. Created four decades apart they are, in some cosmic sense, forever linked, and I couldn’t be more humbled or honored.
Sometimes your heroes turn out to be everything you hope they will be. Sometimes they turn out to be gentlemen.
To Barry Hay, George Kooymans, Rinus Gerritsen, and Cesar Zuiderwijk, for the many years of music, and the kind consideration:
Heel erg bedankt!
After all this time, the bullet still hits the bone.