Dial MS for murder

By Christie Franke, Staff Writer

There has been a murder in a recording studio.

A guitarist is found dead, and his $75,000 pearl-top Zemaitis missing.

Enter JP Kinkaid, veteran rocker and longtime San Francisco resident with a knack for solving mysteries in the world of rock music8212;not just the glamorous world of music, but its sticky underbelly as well.

Cut to real life. Now enter author Deborah Grabien, who has been writing music mystery books for years. Involved in the London rock scene for much of her life, she knows her subject matter well. Her latest offering, The Kinkaid Chronicles, allows the reader to delve into the intimacies of the rock world and experience its mysteries through the eyes of famous guitarist JP Kinkaid.

The series started last year with the release of Rock and Roll Never Forgets, in which readers were introduced to JP; his longtime partner, Bree; and the members of the fictional band Blacklight, who are on par with the Rolling Stones. Although it is a mystery series at the core, there is an unexpected side to the hero who suffers from multiple sclerosis, which is a disease Grabien also suffers from.

The newly published While My Guitar Gently Weeps picks up where Rock and Roll Never Forgets leaves off. JP, back from a tour with the band, is home in San Francisco dealing with a ramping up of MS and the aftereffects of a minor heart attack. He begins to play second guitar with a local group, the Bombadiers, for their new CD with their new lead guitarist and singer, Vinny Fabiano. Vinny is loud and self-absorbed, and he has some expensive equipment. A few weeks into the recording, Vinny is bumped off in the studio, bashed over the head by a guitar. Things escalate rapidly after that.

Recently, I interviewed Grabien about her book, music and life with MS.

Christie Franke: How did you come up with the idea about the Kinkaid Chronicles?

Deborah Grabien: I didn’t. It was apparently sitting in there, waiting for me to write it all down. I’d refused to revisit those years in my own life, because there was a lot in there that hurt and a lot I knew I could never get back, and I wasn’t ready until a couple of years ago. But that’s the thing about writing: You’re in service to the story, not the other way around. And this story, these people, those memories, pulled me in and demanded an outlet. I just gave them one.

CF: What was your inspiration for While My Guitar Gently Weeps? Did you draw the plot and characters from real people and events?

DG: The story came as the natural follow-on to Rock and Roll Never Forgets. The thing about the Kinkaids is that they’re really a coming-of-age chronicle, a continuing arc. It had to be that way, because people aren’t static and neither are situations. Three days after I’d finished Rock and Roll Never Forgets, I knew what was happening with JP and Bree and the rest of the extended “Kinkaidverse” as we call it, and I just wrote it as it unfolded.

And yes, some of the situations, people and places are drawn from reality. Fans of ’60s and ’70s Brit rock will recognize an homage to Ronnie Laine in the character of Jack Featherstone, a session bassist legend and friend of JP’s who dies from complications from multiple sclerosis. There’s also a party scene early on in the book that was taken from real life8212;my own8212;and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

CF: The title is taken from a Beatles song from The White Album. Does it specifically tie into the plot?

DG: Yes indeed8212;every Kinkaid title relates directly to the story. The first book was about reclaiming the past, which is why Rock and Roll Never Forgets was the perfect title. While My Guitar Gently Weeps deals with the reality of being a session guitarist as well as a touring superstar, because at heart, and in his own head, JP is a session player, not a rock star. The guitars in question are the tools of his trade, and the plot is centered there. The third one, London Calling, deals with racism and how rock deals with it, fights it and occasionally harbors it. The title is, of course, a famous song by The Clash, who were among the musical leaders in the Rock Against Racism movement in the UK in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

CF: JP has MS, and you’re doing a benefit for the disease in September. Do you want to tell us a little about that? Is there anything college students can do?

DG: The benefit is going to be an absolute corker. If you’re anywhere near SF, get yourself down to this one, because it’s going to rock, good and hard. MSFriends is a wonderful nonprofit that provides round-the-clock lifeline support for MS patients by way of their hotline, and trust me, it’s needed. Getting that diagnosis can send you into a state of complete panic. There’s so much misinformation about it8212;even The New York Times did an article a few years back, referring to it as “fatal.” Once, there was no one to talk to when a patient woke up crying at three in the morning, but there is now.
If you go to MSFriends home page8212;www.msfriends.org/8212;and click on “store,” you’ll see some amazing stuff. Check out MSFriends’ leather wristband. And the guitar pick necklace, in one of the coolest pieces of packaging ever, is something I always have with me.

CF: How long have you been associated with the rock-and-roll world? How did it provide you with the behind-the-scenes perspective you use for the books?

DG: About 40 years, give or take, with a big gap in the middle. The old writing motto “write what you know” certainly came in handy here because once I was willing to draw on those memories and reconnect with those friends still in the industry, I reclaimed a kind of all-access to a storehouse of detail: everything from remembering 1969 and Woodstock through the ’70s, and now again, back in that world, though things are a lot less decadent and a lot calmer.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps will be released Sept. 15. It can be pre-ordered now on Amazon, and you can look for it in bookstores soon. Grabien’s other books, The Haunted Ballads, is a series that combines ghosts and folk songs. For more information about the MS benefit concert, visit www.msfriends.org/index.php?pg=rockforms.

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