“And so here, finally, washed up at last at the end of the world, Riley took a moment before ringing the bell. This dizzy dream, this headlong plan set to bloom, or die trying. On the porch, he rolled his shoulders, tapped the cassette in his pocket. The songs are good, he breathed. Let them carry.
He dug his nails sharply into the palms of his hands—five seconds, ten—then pushed the button with his thumb. Three notes chimed away inside.”
It’s the summer of 1995, and in the hills above Los Angeles, Riley Oliver is ringing a doorbell and chasing a dream.
Fifteen years have passed since his band flamed out at CBGB, and Riley sees the life his former guitarist Will Taylor has built—successful producing career, the lovely Lena for a wife, a gated home—and he wants some of that luck for himself. Jumping the fence, Riley brings the shadows of the past back to Will, and long-buried conflicts darken the sunny Southern California scene.
Los Angeles is the city of dreams crashed and burned, and summer simmers as Riley and Will craft an album that could be everything or nothing, while Lena and Riley circle each other ever more tightly. Drummers and bassists, surly singers and eager A&R men pass through, and the mysterious circumstances of Riley’s arrival with a few songs in his pocket and a black Gibson in his hand keep everyone wondering what he really wants, after all this time.
“In this wonderful debut, Rob Yardumian tells an irresistible story about the struggles of two old friends. In doing so he writes brilliantly about music and sex, art and love, the power of money and the lure of charisma.” — Margot Livesey, author of Eva Moves the Furniture and The Flight of Gemma Hardy
“The Sound of Songs Across the Water is a rock ‘n’ roll novel that does what a rock ‘n’ roll novel must— capture the music, the bristling energy and careening emotions of it, and make it loud upon the page. Rob Yardumian writes like a really good band sounds.” — David W. Williams, author of The Long Gone Daddies
Background > back to top
When I lived in Los Angeles, I used to run around Silver Lake in the mornings. It’s about three miles around the lake, which, at the time, was actually a reservoir behind barbed-wire fencing. Riley runs around the lake in the book—it’s where he sees the perturbed parrot at the beginning and the coyote at the end.
Anyway, one morning in 2003 as I ran around the lake, I got the idea for this book. By the time I got home, I had the whole shape of it figured, and it never changed very much. (Although there was this note: “There’s a magical guitar—a Martin owned by Buddy Holly that the producer lets him use. At the end he steals it and it feels OK. Maybe the name of that guitar is the name of the book.” I didn’t explore that idea. Probably wisely.)
I knew that I wanted to write a novel, after having completed a book of stories. I had two ideas—a hard one and an easy one. This book represented the easy one. I knew both the setting—meaning the physical locations—and the environment the characters inhabited. I’d worked in the music business for ten years. I’d dabbled in songwriting and spent some time in studios. So I knew I could render that world convincingly.
Plus—and perhaps most importantly—the story would be told chronologically. So all I had to do was write it, from start to finish, a few times through until it was done. How long could it take, a couple of years?
Well. Nine years later, it was done.
Reviews > back to top
Coming soon (I hope).
Riley’s Los Angeles > back to top
Many of the places in the novel do exist in Los Feliz, which is a neighborhood I lived in and around for almost 20 years. Here are some of Riley’s favorites:
Will Taylor’s house: OK, this isn’t really Will Taylor’s house. But this beautiful house, and many others like it, are in the neighborhood where the Taylors live. Riley would have jumped a fence like this one at the beginning of the book.
Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake: Where Lena stocks up for the big night of movie viewing.
The Silver Lake steps: Riley finally runs these, once he gets in better shape. I used to run these myself, back in the day. 162 of them, to be precise.
The German pub: Where Riley and Will catch up over beers and meet the infamous and odorous Blood of Odin. This tavern on Glendale Boulevard is actually called the Red Lion.
Uncle Jer’s: The late, lamented, bestest gift shop ever.
Casting call > back to top
One of the things I spend quite a bit of time on when I’m writing is to cast the characters as if I was shooting a movie. I find that it helps me fix the character in my mind, helps me imagine facial movements, gestures with hands, that sort of thing. So here’s who I cast to play the characters in this novel.
Riley Oliver: It’s one of the enduring mysteries of this book that I was never able to fix an actor in mind for Riley. Why is that? I spent nine years with the guy. But somehow, I just couldn’t get anybody to stick.
Will Taylor: Will Taylor would be played by a guy I knew the summer I spent weaving hammocks in Nags Head, NC. I don’t remember his name, but everyone called him Big Daddy. He was a tall, gawky, left-handed lady-killer.
Lena Taylor: Angela Bassett, Sasha: Catherine Zeta-Jones
Mrs. Dingle: Joann Havrilla