Today I’m speaking with the ebullient Lance Burson, writer, comedian and author of The Ballad of Helene Troy.
M: The Ballad of Helene Troy really captures the fast-paced lifestyle and the gritty and non-glamorous side of the music scene. It feels authentic; right down to the rock and roll jargon that’s used throughout the book. How do you know so much about it, were you a musician yourself?
L: I’m a really bad guitar player and have been for 25 years. I was a DJ and managed a couple of early 1990’s alternative rock bands. I spent most of my 20’s around music scenes. And I’m a total music junkie and fanboi.
M: You have a really striking cover and the girl in it is actually a picture of your eldest daughter. Where was the photograph taken?
L: In the downtown of the local area where we live. It has this section that sort of looks like old school Brooklyn, pre hipsters. And yes, that’s my 20-year-old daughter who is in her junior year of college. She was in high school when we shot it.
M: One of the core themes is the clashing of the art form and the business aspects of music. What has been your experience with this and how do you reconcile the two?
L: There is no reconciliation. Business always wins. I’ve known more incredible artists who are now soccer moms and dads than people who made it. Art is so subjective and only the weakest among us allow it to be bought and sold. Go to any local bar or music venue in your town and you’ll find people doing it for the love of it and nothing else who are more artistic than the people you hear on the radio or see on TV.
M: The main character, Helene, is on the cusp of becoming a really great musician, but she’s struggling with loyalty to her band mates and her own career. What are some of the inner band relationships you’ve experienced and what are the typical troubles in a band?
L: Helene is an amalgam of female and male musicians I’ve known in my life. Some succumbed to drugs, others became studio players, others got married and had babies, and others are still sweating it out in their 40’s in small clubs all over the place. Every band I was ever around, and I was around dozens, had one member that was just little better than everyone else. Their talent was more obvious. I was close friends with a female musician in college, she provided a lot of inspiration for Helene, and she was ten times better than her bandmates and she was ‘just’ the rhythm guitarist in the band. She later became a studio player and A&R rep for major labels. Point is, talent doesn’t always make it or even matter as it should. In that way, Helene is a fairy tale (lol).
M: Have you written any other novels?
L: I’ve written four, but published two – The Ballad Of Helene Troy and Soul To Body – also about a musician, a dude one, who is struggling to raise his teen daughter after the death of his wife.
M: What books or authors have most influenced you and do you have a favorite genre?
L: Oh wow, what a question. I’m all over the place. I love the classic and get a lot of inspiration from the Lost Generation of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Miller, etc. I just reread Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein and Alex Haley’s, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, those two books influenced me so much. I’m a huge fan of Chuck Palahniuk even though he’s not the feminist I am. Fight Club changed my life.
M: Fight Club changed my life too. I feel like Bob gave us permission to cry and he died for all our sins. I shout, ‘his name is Robert Paulson’ every time I’m in the grocery store as tribute.
M: You have a blog called, My Blog Can Beat up Your Blog and it’s true, your blog has beaten up my blog numerous times and stolen its lunch money. Is there any central theme, or do you just like to talk about things that interest you?
L: It used to be a writer-centric space where I wrote a lot of episodic fiction. Helene and Soul To Body were both serialized there. These days, it’s all deep, well-meaning, empathetic personal essays about my life now as a stand up comedian and father of 3 girls, aged 12, 13 and 20. Once the election is over and I can type without hitting the keyboard with my fists, I’ll get back to just writing fiction and non-fiction essays.
M: You also do stand up comedy. When did you start and how did you ever work up the nerve to go on stage?
L: I did for a little under 3 years in the 1990’s, 93-96. I wasn’t very good because I didn’t have a lot of life experience to draw from. In early 2015, I went back to it on a lark, just to see if I could do it. I’m coming up in two years and I’m getting paid every once in a while, getting out of the house 3-5 times a week and even getting my name is lights. I’ve never been nervous to do it. Writing books is lot more nerve wracking.
M: Do you have any favorite sets that stand out as being really great? Did you ever completely bomb?
L: I bomb a lot. But I also do well sometimes. I recently headlined a club and did a feature spot in a theatre. My best experience has come from a large venue that holds a couple of hundred people and I had great sets both times there. I’ve participated in comedy contests as well and have done pretty good. I’m still learning and honing the craft.
M: Do you have certain things you focus on in your material like politics, romance, etc, or you do you have a more versatile style?
L: I try to be versatile but my ‘best stuff’ is about my family – living with a wife and three daughters. I mix in a little politics and pop culture. I’m writing new stuff now.
M: Who are some of your favorite comedians?
L: Oh wow, another doozy of a question. George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Lewis, Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garafalo, Sarah Silverman, Louis CK, Maria Bamford (genius) and many others.
M: Oh wow, although Bill Hicks and George Carlin were not atheists per se, they both are the first comedians I remember to criticize organized religion.
M: I like to know where people stand on the important issues. What is your opinion of people who don’t use fabric softener?
L: Lazy degenerates and I am one.
M: Tell the kleptomaniacs and the mildly bloated where they can find you and your books on the internet.
L: I am available on amazon for kindle https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lance+burson and Lulu.com in paperback https://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=lance+burson&type
They make lovely holiday gifts.