Greg Kihn: You really CAN make this stuff up!

By Jeb Wright

Greg Kihn is best known for his FM radio hit “The Breakup Song” and the song “Jeopardy” that was parodied by Weird Al Yankovic.  He has, however, had a successful career as a deejay and as an author.  His latest literary work sees him create a fictional tale about a guy named Dust Bin Bob, who befriends the Beatles over their shared love of American music. 

In the interview that follows, Kihn discusses his latest book in detail, explaining his love of the Beatles, his experience of interviewing members of the band and those close to them, as well as revealing the true identity of Dust Bin Bob. 

Jeb: Rubber Soul is the best damn fictional book I have read in ages.  I will be honest, I thought, when I first saw it, “Kihn writing a fake Beatles tune…come on!”  But when I got it…and started reading it…I was hooked!  I said ‘tune’ I meant book!

Greg: I don't have the creative chops to ever write a fake Beatles tune.  Buddy Holly, yes, Beatles, no.  I loved their music so much when I was young that I could never parody it, and THIS, coming from a man who was parodied by Weird Al!  The master!  But getting back to the book, I think people have fun reading it because I had so much fun writing it.  It was truly a labor of love and I think it reaches out and touches people in a way that few books do these days.

Jeb:  First off, how did the idea come up to write a book about the Beatles using fiction?  That, in itself, is very creative.

Greg: I got chance to interview the surviving Beatles over the last 17 years on the radio at KFOX.  I spoke with Paul and Ringo twice, and Pete Best, as well as Patti, Yoko, and Geoff Emerick.  A recurring question was "Where did the Beatles get their records?"  The universal answer was they got them from friends of Merchant Marines returning from the states with the latest R&B singles.  That gave me the idea for the character Dust Bin Bob, who becomes a lifelong friend of the Beatles.  They must have had a guy like that. 

Jeb:  Dust Bin Bob is another fascinating character.  I love how you build his story from his humble beginnings and then track his life through his associations with his friends.  He is a very human character. 

Greg: Dust Bin Bob is really me, in a Walter Mitty role, although I wasn't there with the Beatles, but his personality and love of music is 100% me.   Dust Bib Bob comes of age during the book, he grows up, learns about sex, drugs and rock and roll.  There's a little bit of Holden Caulfield in Bob.  To make a character human, it has to be based on someone real.  Dust Bin Bob has foibles and self-doubt, but he goes through life with a positive attitude and keeps putting one foot in front of the other.  He's the most human character I think I've ever created.

Jeb:  Was there any apprehension that the band or their management or Yoko would step in and say, “Uh…Kihn…What the hell?”

Greg: Nope.  I think I was operating under the radar.  If you approach Rubber Soul as historical fiction, and the Beatles as well-known public figures, it stays out of the trouble zone.  Having interviewed Yoko, I know exactly what she means.  She has her own agenda.   She can be contrary at times.

Jeb: Here is an odd is writing a book like Rubber Soul different from writing lyrics to a song?  I mean, it’s obviously more difficult and takes longer, but I mean from a creative standpoint…

Greg:  Great question.  It's the same creative muscle in your brain whether you're writing a novel, a song, a short story, a radio rant, whatever; it all comes from the same place in your brain.  I get an idea for a song, and I can pretty much write it in my head, melody and all, and then pick up the guitar and put the finishing touches on it just the same way I get an idea for a novel.  I can outline it in my head and write it later…not too much later.  I keep my mind receptive to all ideas that way.  I keep a notebook full of ideas- but it's all jumbled up- some songs- some stories, my next novel, etc.  If you saw it, you would say it's the notebook of a crazy man.  But, the creative process only happens when it happens, and my job is to be ready when the idea comes along.  I'll make some quick notes and visit it later and it's still fresh.

Jeb: Have you received any feedback from anyone associated with the Beatles?

Greg: I sent copies to Paul and Ringo and Pete Best, but so far no feedback.  I can't wait.  That would be the real test!  I know my interviews with the Beatles were all good because I am a musician and I kept my questions music related, unlike most other interviews they do. 

Jeb: What was the hardest part of the book writing process?

Greg: There really was no hard part.  I breezed through the book, loved every minute of it.  I didn't need to do much research because I lived through most of it as a hard core Beatles fan.  I had to bone up on the Manila affair, because I wasn't there and my wife is Filipino, so I had to do some fact checking, but that's about it.  But it wasn't much.  Most of us Baby Boomers remember everything about that era.  The Beatles were part of our lives. 

Jeb:  If you are like me, then the research on the Beatles was probably easy, as you probably knew most of it by heart.

Greg: Exactly...  A little fact checking and that's it.  I might point out here that Rubber Soul is 100% historically accurate in all its non-fiction passages.

Jeb: I have heard there is a sequel coming up.  Is that true? 

Greg: Yep, I'm already on page 220 on the sequel.  I couldn't let these characters go.  I loved Dust Bin Bob, Cricket, Clovis and Erlene, Preston Washington, and of course, the Beatles.   I didn't want Rubber Soul to end.  When it did, I dove directly into the sequel.  I don't want to give it away, but I'm having a ball writing it.  It should be ready for next spring.

Jeb:  You know what would be cool…have a CD included in the sequel of all Beatles songs remade by Greg Kihn. 

Greg: You read my mind!  Maybe I could do something on iTunes.  I have several CD's made of all the music and it really helps as you're reading to listen to the music now and then.  Look for me to do something like this in the spring along with a possible Audiobook.

Jeb:  Since this book is about the Beatles, I have to ask, what was their influence on you? 

Greg:  They changed my life.  I was one of the 73 million people who watched them on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and it had a major impact on my life.  Obviously, I became a professional musician myself and had a handful of hit records, thereby living my small part of the Beatles dream.   It never would have happened without the Beatles.  Their impact on all our lives cannot be overstated.  From music, fashion, attitude, art, style, and every other aspect of life… things would never be the same.

Jeb:  Best Beatles album is…

Greg:  Sgt. Pepper- just imagine if the first two songs they recorded for it actually made it onto the album.  How strong would it have been with “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” included?  EMI had a curious rule about not putting hit singles on the albums, a silly rule to be sure. 

Jeb:  True or False:  Lennon rules over McCartney, and Harrison is the unsung hero of the band. 

Greg:  True.  But Paul had his day and held the group together after Yoko came along.  It's amazing, but every member of the Beatles carries their own weight, and balances the greatness.

Jeb:  Have you thought of writing a screenplay about Beserkley Records?  I think it would make a great movie. 

Greg:  Hey man, have you been reading my mind?  That's exactly what I have in mind!  Beserkley was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  It was completely gonzo and I really want to tell the story.  Joel Turtle, founding father of Beserkley, and still my manager, has agreed to help me and I think it would make a killer movie- a little like Spinal Tap, but it was real!  The little label that could!

Jeb:  For those who are not familiar with what I am talking about, give us a synopsis of what that was about and why I say it would be an interesting tale. 

Greg:  Four unknown bands, all dropped by their record companies, throw their money together and start a tiny independent record company, cut a sampler, Beserkley Chartbusters Vol 1, and defy million-to-one odds and have a bunch of hit records and conquer the world!. 

Jeb: You left music and became a deejay.  Was this on purpose, or was it the fact that the gig was over and you needed a new job?

Greg: It was time to move on.  I was good at radio and I knew I could be successful at it.   Once the hit records dry up, most bands get on the oldies circuit, but I had another plan.  Instead of touring, I would stay home and do radio.  This gave me a chance to do some serious writing and I was able to publish my first four novels starting in 1996.  Being on the road is like a treadmill and I needed a change of pace.  Radio was fun and easy for me.  Plus, I made some pretty decent money!

Jeb:  You got to interview many of the Beatles or people associated with the Beatles…. any advice on interviewing rock royalty? 

Greg:  Always be conversational when you interview big rock stars.  They would much rather have an interesting conversation with you than answer a bunch of stupid questions.  After doing tons of interviews as a rock star, I know what a bad one sounded like.  Pete Best was the nicest.  Paul and Ringo were great.  Yoko was weird.  Patti was down to earth, and Geoff was very informative.  I asked Ringo about touring the world without monitor speakers so the band never knew what they sounded like on stage.  I said, "It was so loud we couldn't hear anything.  Paul was looking at John for the beat, George was watching Paul's feet, and they were all looking at Ringo.  Who was Ringo looking to?"  "I was looking to God," Ringo said. 

Jeb: I have to ask before I go…have you talked to Weird Al lately?

Greg:  I spoke with Al last month when he invited me to his gig at the Marin County Fair.  I still get mailbox money from Al!  What a guy!  I was so flattered that he chose to parody me, I considered it an honor.  Al is a wonderful guy.  He invited me to be in the video for that song too.  I got to meet Don Pardo!  Al says “Jeopardy” is still one of his favorites. 

Jeb:  And, I am such a fan of “The Breakup Song” that I still crank that one up all the time.  Were the uh-uh’s planned from the beginning? 

Greg:  No, I had always intended to write more lyrics to fit in there, but like so much of rock and roll, it just happened spontaneously.  Man, I'm glad I didn't change it though.  That song translates into any language and was a worldwide hit.  All because I was short on lyrics and improved the uh-uh’s in the studio.   

Jeb:  Last one:  Did Joe Satriani used to play in your band?

Greg:  Yes!  Joe was in the Greg Kihn Band from 1986-1987.  He appears on the Love and Rock and Roll album and parts of Citizen Kihn, as well as some live tracks on the Sony Extended Live Versions series recorded live at the Shoreline, plus he's the lead guitarist on The King Biscuit Flour Hour CD GKB Live

I told him he had to go solo and he was being wasted in the GKB.  After all, we were a three chord band more like Creedence than Led Zep and he was a 3000 chord guy.   He took my advice and left the band only to be replaced by Jimmy Lyon from Eddie Money and Tina Turner, and finally my son Ry Kihn.  I just played a charity event with Chickenfoot last year and I got to see Joe again and you know what he asked me about?  Rubber Soul!  I gave him an advance reading copy.  Joe is a class act.

Jeb:  Really… last one…Rubber Soul kicked ass, Greg.  It was not your first book, but it is your best.  Do you feel that way?  When you finished the final edit, and read it over one more time before turning it in…what went through your mind?

Greg:  I agree 100%.  Something special happened during the writing of this book.  I can't put my finger on it but it was inspirational.  Maybe it was the subject matter, maybe it was the magic of the Beatles, but something happened.  I never had so much fun writing a book.  Once I got about 50 pages into it, it just wrote itself.  I felt like I was channeling the book right out of thin air.   I'm extending that same vibe into the sequel.   Let there be no mistake- I loved Rubber Soul, it's the best thing I've ever written.  I hope others see it the same way. 

Once in a while you hit the bull’s eye.  I did it a couple of times musically, and on the radio, but Rubber Soul is the first time I did it in a novel.  When I read the final edit and put it down, I knew I had something special.  I remember thinking to myself, THIS TIME I GOT IT RIGHT.  Look for the sequel next year!   

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