By Steve Hubrecht
A missing dog, a vanished lover, and a guitar-slinging protagonist running from toughs intent on killing him, all amid the soaring peaks and wide open horizons of the west. It’s a classic tale told with swashbuckling verve in both words and in song by Invermere author and musician James Rose.
He recently launched a new book and, earlier this summer, a pair of albums. The flurry of creativity is no coincidence — the novel and the music tie together forming a larger, multi-layered project set in a tourism-based mountain town.
Pioneer readers with decent memories will recall Rose serving two stints as a staff reporter at the Pioneer in recent years. Rose also grew up in the Columbia Valley, and although he wrote the book and composed the albums while living in Banff over the course of the past year, he does concede that the valley, as well as his experiences living in Banff, helped inform both the novel and the music. In fact, the valley is where the later half of the book’s first chapter takes place (the protagonist is taking a break from Banff).
The novel — ‘King Hell Spectacle’ — tells the story of Banff folksinger Cliff Beauregard. Cliff lands a major record deal, but loses his girlfriend and his French Algerian bulldog, before a case of mistaken identity results in a pair of mysterious agents on Cliff’s tail for reasons that aren’t altogether clear. There’s plenty of twists and turns to keep readers hooked, but perhaps the most intriguing part is that each chapter begins with the lyrics to a song.
The songs are the ones that the fictional Cliff is writing for his debut record. They also happen to narrate the story of the wild ride Cliff’s life has taken since getting his big break. Each chapter begins with these lyrics. The text of the chapter then expands on the song.
“So there’s the song, and then there’s the prose. What you’re reading, when you read the rest of the chapter (after the lyrics), is the prose behind the song,” Rose explained to the Pioneer. “Songs telling a story are very much in the folk tradition of ballads.”
Cliff’s lyrics are, of course, written by Rose. But Rose has done more than just write lyrics — he’s written music, on acoustic guitar and harmonica. So most of the songs in the book (there are three exceptions) are actual songs in real life. Together these songs make up ‘While A Record Played,’ Rose’s debut album.
“There’s a lot of overlap — the songs are in the book. The songs tell a story, the book tells a story, and they are both intertwined,” said Rose.
The music is a mix of country, folk and blues. If you listen to snippets of each song, one of the tunes is bound to get stuck in your head for the rest of the day (for the Pioneer this was the catchy ‘Tango in Durango’).
‘While A Record Played’ is a full-length album with 11 songs, and not long after it was released, Rose put out an EP with five more new songs. These too feature acoustic guitar and enigmatic, tale-telling lyrics in the vein of Bob Dylan. Several of them also appear in ‘King Hell Spectacle’.
“I like when a story is being told (in a song). It doesn’t really matter what the genre is, if it’s good music and a good narrator, I like it,” said Rose. “That’s what I was trying to do with my songs.”
Rose recorded ‘While A Record Played’ and ‘Cantina’ quickly, with the intention of capturing the raw, imperfect energy of the moment.
The cover for ‘While A Record Played’ will look very familiar indeed to Columbia Valley residents, as it is a fine art oil painting of Columbia Lake and the mountains beyond as viewed from the north. It was done by local artist Denise Lemaster, who just so happens to be Rose’s mom.
Although ‘King Hell Spectacle’ launched as a novel a few weeks ago, Rose serialized the tale earlier this year, releasing it chapter by chapter through his online newsletter. The first chapter came out in mid October 2022, and the chapters were released regularly online every few weeks thereafter.
Rose told the Pioneer he had no overall plot outline for the book, and was making up each chapter as he went. This is a radical departure from his usual style, which involves creating detailed plot outlines first and then churning out a book at a torrid pace, essentially pounding it out in one large push.
“My first three books were very much a blitzkrieg approach, getting as much done as possible every day,” said Rose. “This was a very different way to go about it and to impose some parameters on myself. It gave me more time to think.”
Rose said he was inspired to serialize his novel by Tom Wolfe’s ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ which was originally released in serial form in the 1980s in Rolling Stone magazine.
‘King Hell Spectacle’ is available at Four Points Books in downtown Invermere, as well as online through Four Points Books website (fourpointsbook.ca) or through Amazon.