Elliott Murphy

Marty May is Alive and Well and Living in France

Elliott Murphy
Photo: Laurent Cousin

In 1979 I was sleeping on a cot in my mother's den playing underpaid gigs all over New York and New Jersey and trying to figure out what the hell happened to my once promising career. Five years earlier, I was living a glamorous life at the Beverly Hills Hotel in a style I could grow accustomed to, where the clothes closets were bigger then the room I was now occupying. But you know, life is what happens while we're making other plans and rubbing shoulders with Liz Taylor in the Polo Lounge was not my destiny. California sun was soon replaced by New York rain, and after four albums I was a persona non-gratis as far as the major record labels were concerned. But hey, Vincent Van Gogh didn't have a record contract either!

I'm a man who carries an umbrella even on clear days but I do believe that every cloud has a silver living, so with a lot of free time on my hands I started to tap away on my Smith Corona electric typewriter a series of short stories that I hoped would help me to understand my situation. It was actually a bit of self-therapy, I guess. My late great mentor, Paul Nelson, had steered me in the right direction when one evening over burgers at the Jackson Hole he suggested I re-read F. Scott Fitzgerald's Pat Hobby Stories and use them as a template for my own not-yet-written novel. Fitzgerald wrote these stories when he was down and out in Hollywood in the late 1930's, trying to support his daughter away at a private school and his wife Zelda, sequestered in a mental hospital in Asheville, NC. Fitzgerald had already burned many bridges in the film industry, showing up drunk and disorderly at chic soirees, and had not really fit into the collaborative system of screenwriting anyway where a dozen or so authors might work on the same script at the same time. There's a great scene in Fitzgerald's posthumous novel, The Last Tycoon, where Hollywood tycoon Monroe Stahr, the chief protagonist, is explaining to an author turned screenwriter the difference between writing books and making movies. He tells a story full of mysterious visual action with no dialog at all and the scene contains an unforgettable line where Stahr, at the end of his story, has a nickel left [5 cent piece] in his hand and the author asks him what that's for and Stahr replied, "The popcorn!"

So, I hunkered down there at my mother's fourth floor apartment on York Avenue and wrote a few stories about my alter-ego Marty May, a whiz blues guitarist whose career had stalled to the point it was barely moving. I could relate, of course. The first story was called Cold and Electric and it brought Marty to Los Angeles to work as a guest guitarist on a new wave band's album with less then positive results. Some weeks later, after finishing the story, I was walking down 57th Street in Manhattan and ran into Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone, who asked what I was up to and I told him about Cold and Electric. He was very interested and after a bit of fine editing, he published it in Rolling Stone. I may not have had my photo on the cover of that bible of Rock and Roll (at least not yet) but I have had my name on that same magazine cover as an author of fiction - I'll take that for now!

My story had such an overwhelmingly positive reaction from readers - I got a ton of letters including one from Paramount Pictures in Hollywood - which Jann encouraged me to expand the story into a full novel, which I did, working closely with an RS editor Patty Bashe. When the novel was done we tried to shop it around to NY publishers but the problem was, if you can believe this, at that time the common wisdom among publishing houses was that fans of rock 'n roll do not read books. Believe it or not! So I licked my wounds and went back out on the road in Europe and mentioned the novel in a few interviews. And voila! I was approached by a small publisher in France who wanted to publish a shortened version of the book, which we did under the title Cold and Electric. Luckily, this version also came out in Spain and Germany and I figured that was it for the short sweet life of Marty May.

You know, I'm famous for my messy office, its kind of like the painter Francis Bacon's studio [Google it!] and every once in a while I try to get it kind of in order and go through my archives and just a year or so ago I found the dusty, faded manuscript of the full version of Cold and Electric. It was typewritten, of course, and kind of falling apart so I figured I better get it into the computer where it could live on for eternity not that I had any hopes for it seeing the light of day. As I was doing that, I was more taken with Marty's story then I was when I wrote it. Time had given a certain historical elegance to the setting and put the story in perspective especially considering the mess the music business is in now. I made some edits in grammar and structure without changing the original style. Took me a couple of months to do it and after it was done, again, I said goodnight to Marty May.

Then, I met Christophe Mercier, a fan of my music, an author himself, and an esteemed translator of English in French literary circles. For some reason, the topic of the book came up and Christophe wanted to read the full version. And he liked it, more then liked it, and presented it to Joelle Losefeld who has an eclectic imprint at Editions Gallimard, one of France's oldest and most prestigious publishers. Joelle was enthusiastic too and I could sense that Marty May was coming back to life. Christophe began his translation of the text and made some crucial edit and structure suggestions that I followed. I wanted to differentiate this novel from the shortened one twenty years earlier so I decided to call it Marty May, the hero's name right there on the cover in the tradition of Olivier Twist, Huckleberry Finn and, of course, The Great Gatsby.

So far, the reaction has been very satisfying and I'm tempted to write The Further Adventures of Marty May... maybe I will someday! In the meantime, Marty May is only available in a French edition and I'm hoping we will succeed in publishing an English version soon. They say every cat has nine lives and Marty May is a bit of a cat himself, that's what they use to call great studio musicians in New York and Nashville, so it seems he's come back to life one more time and I'm glad to have him around again trying to figure things out.

Order it now from Amazon France!

March 31, 2013

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