Danny Bland’s new novel a tale of Seattle rock and grit
In his new novel, “In Case We Die,” longtime Seattle music personality Danny Bland hearkens back to an era of hard rock and hard drugs in the city.
Seattle Times columnist
Not many people would be surprised to learn that Danny Bland has seen things.
The longtime band manager and musician has been in Seattle since 1987, when he was drawn here by the bewitching telephone tone of a local music promoter, and the fact that he could wear his leather jacket in August.
Over the next 24 years, he played in bands. He worked in a porn shop. He had a drug and alcohol habit that would have felled a redwood — had he not sobered up 21 years ago.
But it turns out that the Arizona-raised Bland, who spent hour after graveyard hour ringing up sex toys, or ferrying musicians hither and yon in an Econoline van, was all the while crafting his first novel.
Bland’s book, “In Case We Die,” was released in August by Seattle’s own Fantagraphics Books, and will bring him to The Elliott Bay Book Company on Oct. 12.
It’s a bleak read, set in Seattle in the early days of the so-called grunge era, when the city was just shaking off its wet-and-working-class identity and about to be caught in the national spotlight for its music scene. For better or for worse.
The latter is where Bland’s book lingers.
“In Case We Die” is chock-full of blood and needles, cigarettes and rumpled beds, sex and snorting, theft and strippers. You keep hoping someone will come through with a can of Febreze and order everyone into a fresh set of clothes and an AA meeting.
At the center is protagonist Charlie Hyatt, an aimless heroin addict entrenched in a flawed love affair with a musician named Carrie Finch.
It’s a doomed union in which they do drugs, pull each other close and push each other away. They tell each other their secrets and then won’t return calls. One turns to rehab, the other to crime. It all finally ends in a dusty Los Angeles garage, a bloody recording studio and, presumably, the road back to Seattle.
“I kicked around the idea forever,” Bland, 50, said one recent day at his home in West Seattle. “I took notes at the Champ Arcade (porn store), knowing there would be a story someday.”
It’s as much story as cautionary tale.
“To me, blatantly, the book is a love letter to Seattle. Just maybe not the tourist kind,” he said. “The city that I love is a little filthy. The city I love is a little dark and cloudy. The city I love is full of ne’er-do-wells, and I love them.”
In many ways, Charlie Hyatt is Danny Bland. Both toiled at the Champ Arcade, did drugs, skulked through the music scene wearing black clothes and a sly smile.
“It’s hard. Charlie is warts and all,” Bland said. “There’s a lot of stuff I’d like to say is not me.
“But that’s why people write books about war,” he said. “Junkies write books, and it’s the same thing. It’s the conflict we barely make it through. We lose friends, too. That’s part of the trauma, you know.
“And it’s natural fodder for literature.”
Bland’s most precious belongings are his books, which he keeps perfectly shelved according to genre. Music. True Crime. Biography. Fiction. Almost all of them are first editions, wrapped in clear plastic, like in a library.
“I’m a snob,” Bland said. “I love books as a piece of art.”
He wrote his own over the course of almost three years, while touring with musicians Dave Alvin and The Gutter Twins.
“I would do something every day,” Bland said. “Whether a sentence or a note or a page. Sometimes on a long drive, I was composing a sentence or dialogue. It was grabbing time to write whenever I could get it.”
He started at the urging of the late Amy Farris, a violinist to whom the book is dedicated. They were together for two years while touring with Dave Alvin.
“It was her baiting me to write it, telling me, ‘If you don’t write it, you’re not a writer.’ She knew that was the way to get me to do something.”
After being laid off from his job as a the public programs manager at EMP Museum in 2005, he went back on tour. And over the years, he helped put out two benefit CDs — one for Farm Aid and another for the West Memphis Three.
Friendships made over the course of those projects helped him gather a Grammy-worthy collection of readers for his audiobook.
Dave Alvin. Steve Earle. Duff McKagan and Mike McCready. Aimee Mann reads one of the most heartbreaking portions. And John Sinclair, the manager of the MC5, read one chapter in a voice that Bland described as “honey covered razor blades.”
The CD was produced by Local 638 Records, owned by Visqueen’s Rachel Flotard — another friend who supported the book.
“I always fantasized about writing a book, but the scope was so huge, that I never thought it would be possible,” he said.
While one critic thought “In Case We Die” romanticized drug culture, celebrated failure and dwelled in an “overexposed era” in Seattle history, Bland begs to differ. The book has a strong message of sobriety, and redemption, and love.
“I don’t take much seriously in life,” he said, “but sobriety is a serious thing. I like to think Charlie has redeemed himself and is helping others and passing on what little knowledge that he has, because it’s valuable,” he said. “It sums up the recovery experience.”
Bland has recovered and lived to tell the tale. He may just write another.
“When I am on a plane, I am thinking about the next book,” he said. “I don’t know how long it will take, but it seems easier now.”
Nicole Brodeur: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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