Saturday, December 29, 2012

Friend of the Devil? No friend of His!

"Friend of the Devil" was one of the most universally popular songs in the Grateful Dead songbook. It tells the story of a man running from the law who gets briefly helped by the Devil, who lends him twenty dollars, only to come back later, taking it back and vanishing in the air. That's most of the story right there, other than the fact that after the Devil loaned him the 'twenty bills,' he spent the night in Utah in a cave up in the hills.

My novel "Friend of the Devil" definitely takes its inspiration from the Dead song. The protagonist, Herber T. Barrow, is also running from the law and he also runs into the Devil. But this time it's Herbert that does the Devil a favor, not the other way around. Without wanting to, he puts the Devil in his debt, and then refuses to let the Devil pay him back. And in a way, that's where the fun starts.


The Grateful Dead song seems to take place sometime in the mythic Old West. My Friend of the Devil takes place in 1930s Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas. Even so, it's still an age of desperados and lawmen. Herbert, in accordance with time-honored Western tradition, is skedaddling for the border. There, he believes, he'll be able to hide out, albeit in plain view, while working as a singing cowboy on XER the mega-powered "Border Blaster" radio station that sits just across the Rio Grande in Mexico.

Getting there is no easy feat, since neither God nor the Devil is a friend of his!

Following is an excerpt from Friend of the Devil, a novel: 

"From the corner of my eye, I can see him reaching back into his waistcoat pocket, pulling his watch back out and popping open the lid. “All right now,” he says. “Exactly how fast are we going?”

I take a quick look at the speedometer. “Ninety,” I say.

“Ninety,” he says back as he fumbles with the stem on top, turning it and at the same time pulling it up and down. I take another look in the mirror and see that ty he white light has nearly caught up with us, but that it’s already broken up into an array of colors from the rainbow, only they’re all glittering and changing.

Stevens holds the watch up with his thumb on the top button. “Okay,” he says, “get ready. Here we go!” He presses down the top button and immediately it’s like we’re in a small boat carried along by a giant wave. I feel the car lifting from the back and we’re rolling and swaying and the blackness has turned to light, only now it’s like we’re on a river inside a bank of fog.

“All right,” says Stevens, turning around and facing forward on his seat. “That’s that!” He smiles like he’s very satisfied with himself.

“That’s what?” I ask. “Where are we?”

“We’re neither here nor there,” he declares happily. “It might just be a good time to light up one of them reefers you got in your shirt pocket.”

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