Danny Bland made it through a crippling heroin addiction as well as a stint in the notoriously drug-fueled Dwarves. It’s the former that provided him much of the source material for his debut novel, In Case We Die. Set in early-’90s Seattle, it follows the travails of the fictional Charlie Hyatt, a smack addict who finds himself embracing the music scene while feebly attempting to maintain sanity and clarity working the overnight shift at a dingy porn shop and navigating a relationship with his Roky Erikson-obsessed and just as drug-addled girlfriend.
It’s a visceral tale for Bland and it’s often a painfully honest and detailed account of the era that brought grunge to the forefront before imploding all over itself, which most historians chalk up to the area’s love affair with heroin.
Beyond the brilliant storytelling ability that Bland possesses, there’s the high-profile crew of actors, musicians and authors who have contributed readings of In Case We Die for the audiobook. Among them are Aimee Mann, Duff McKagan, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, the Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli, Mark Boone from Sons of Anarchy and Damien Echols of the West Memphis 3.
Tonight at Barnes & Noble in Peabody, Echols will join Bland in a reading and then a discussion about the book. Vanyaland caught up with the author over the weekend to talk about In Case We Die and how he landed the cast of narrators and his time living in Seattle.
Michael Christopher: I talked to Duff a few weeks back, and when we touched on In Case We Die, he said it was a common story that a lot of people could identify with. How recognizable is it to you?
Danny Bland: It’s completely familiar. The character Charlie has a whole lot in common with me. I worked the graveyard shift at a porno store in Seattle in 1990 and I was strung out on heroin. It’s not a memoir, because I don’t think that anybody that toxic is capable of writing a memoir, but it is based on things I know all too well.
How much of it is a memoir?
All the characters are composites of people. The events are all based on real events. The timeline has changed and certain criminal elements have been moved around and changed so people – including myself – don’t get in trouble.
How did you come up with the idea to get everyone involved in the audiobook?
I thought it would be a unique way to get some attention for the book. These are the guys I work with, my friends, but some of the people I didn’t know before they did the reading. Once I recorded a few, word got around and different people came on board. Donal Logue is a friend of Dullis, so Greg passed the word on to him about the project and he was interested. I met Mark Boone Junior at a party and we got to talking and by the time he left that night he said, “Give me a call and I’ll come over a record it.” Damien Echols, I had planned to get a media pass and go to the prison and instead of recording an interview with him we were just going to record a chapter. But it turns out we didn’t have to do that in the end.
I just thought it would be a unique companion piece to the book and a challenge for the musicians and something fun to do for the actors and really a way to use and abuse some of my friends
It’s a great idea and one I might have to steal from you.
Sure. And they all have fun, they already have recording experience and have great voices and they’re already excellent storytellers so they know how to wrap their mind around this project and it’s fun for the fans of these guys to hear them do something different.
What really works with this is you brought in people who were familiar with the subject; you’ve got Greg and Duff, people who’ve had issues with addiction – they know the story.
Every one of those people has dealt with the seedier elements of life and you can hear it in their voice and the way they deliver.
Was that one of the reasons why you reached out to who you did, because they had that familiarity?
That, and I chose different chapters for different people. Dave Alvin has got this great narrative quality to his voice so I had him read the first chapter. Dulli’s made a career of being a sort of nasty, sexy guy, so I gave him sort of the more raunchier type chapters, and actually the one at the end he requested; he wanted to do something that was heavy and deep and dark and emotional – I think he did a fantastic job.
Can we talk for just a minute about how Greg Dulli is the most underrated frontman of all time?
[laughs] I’d have to agree with you there. Showmanship is a rare thing these days. And someone that it comes to naturally, like if you go see the Whigs or the Gutter Twins or the Twilight Singers, you can’t take your eyes off him as a performer. It’s that same sort of raw, sexual beast reminiscent of Elvis and Jim Morrison.
What kind of music are you listening to now?
I kind of like what I’ve always liked; I’m a caveman rock and roller and early R&B fanatic. I like everything from the Ramones to Little Richard but it’s really not a great variety of music – you know? It’s just four on the floor bonehead rock and roll and that’s what I’ve always been attracted to. I’m simple. I rarely listen to new music; I just watched Arcade Fire on Saturday Night Live and I thought it was a skit [laughs].
Tell me about your history with music in Seattle.
I moved to Seattle in 1987 with a band I put together in Arizona called the Best Kissers in the World; it was kind of a power pop band. I moved there because it was the opposite of Phoenix. For me it was about the weather; I wanted some clouds, I wanted some rain – the heat of the desert had stifled me physically and mentally.
The guys in Cat Butt asked me join their band and after that disintegrated I went back to the Best Kissers in the World and got strung out on heroin – because that seemed like a pretty good goddamned idea at the time. After I went to treatment and cleaned up I did a most unexpected thing and joined the Dwarves, which I can’t really recommend as someone’s after treatment plan, but it sure worked for me.
How did you beat the addiction?
I had to learn what was happening, learn what I was doing to my body, to my mind to my psyche and have medical supervision and be looked after and be counseled. I tried many times by myself and nothing works. Once I ran out of resources and people to steal from, things to sell and was minutes away from being homeless, it took all that before I could see that I needed help.
I want to ask you the same question I asked Duff about Seattle. Is the junkie tag accurate, or is it a town just like everybody else’s that has been unfairly maligned because there have been so many high-profile casualties?
I think it’s a town just like everybody else’s. Every town has alcohol and every town has every drug in it for sure. I don’t know why Seattle — yeah we had some high-profile deaths, but that’s gone on as long as there’s been electric guitars and drugs. It just happened that during that time period we had a lot of deaths.