Jenny Valentish knows how to deal with the petulant, insecure, vain and munted. As a long time music journalist and editor including time at Triple J magazine and now Time Out, she has come across her share of precocious young bands.
So it is with a fair measure of expertise that Valentish paints Nina Dall, the protagonist of her debut novel Cherry Bomb, an adults-only teenage psychodrama set in the music industry. As one half of Sydney pop-punk band The Dolls, Nina is on a rocky rise in a world of fame, booze, fans, Gawker and TMZ.
We caught up with Jenny to find out more about Nina and Cherry Bomb.
Noisey: It’s fun with books like Cherry Bomb to guess who the characters are based on. Maybe the title is a cheeky giveaway, but can you reveal more of who has inspired your creation of the Dolls?
Jenny Valentish: You’re right in thinking of the Runaways (everybody should read Evelyn McDonnell’s hyperbolic Queens of Noise bio), but also, even though the book is set in the current day, I drew heavily on my teens in the ’90s. It was a boom time for grotty women with guitars: Babes in Toyland, L7, Hole, Belly, Voice of the Beehive, Transvision Vamp, Lush, Elastica. I put those kinds of bands on a slicker career trajectory with 360 deals and social media meltdowns.
How have you portrayed journalists and the press in the book?
The Dolls hold music journalists in very low regard, whether they be the gonzo hacks trying to carve a reputation for themselves; the parasitic old perves ogling behind their pint glasses, then going home to bash out hatefuck reviews; or the intellectual feminists who are disappointed that these teenage girls aren’t stepping up to bat.
The extract below covers one of the more harrowing parts for a young musician the “meet and greet”. Did you attend many growing up?
I didn’t need to do meet and greets – I started a fanzine aged 16 to get around that sort of nonsense. I still can’t believe major record companies used to let me have my half hour with the likes of Tool, L7 and Jeff Buckley (who, okay, refused to speak) on the basis of me photocopying an A5 booklet full of deranged ramblings. I was such a teenage sociophobe that I’d get completely bladdered beforehand and would have to play back the tape later to find out how it had gone. It was usually quite combative.
Nina’s coping strategy is secretive bottles of Smirnoff and she seems partial to most drugs. Just how much sex, drugs and rock and roll is in Cherry Bomb?
Not too much in the way of drugs because I find reading about drug taking incredibly boring. Booze is different – it’s romantic, poetic – so there’s a lot of that. There’s a fair bit of sex, too, but it’s usually the cringe-worthy kind that you read with one eye squeezed shut. It’s more to demonstrate a power play than to delve into erotic fiction.
An excerpt from Cherry Bomb;
Here they came, clutching their posters. Our manager had lined up a meet-and-greet, the bane of any band’s existence. Top artists would pocket around five-hundred dollars per fan for a quick photo and a grope around a table of sandwiches, but in our case Jenner had accepted a group of winners from a radio-station competition, which meant we got nothing but airtime out of it.
‘It’s to give the fans a feeling of ownership,’ Jenner had explained. ‘You’ll get higher return-on-investment if you personalise an experience. Give them a hug and they’ll snap up all the merch for you to sign and be your friend for life.’
‘And, Nina, every time it’s been mentioned on air they’ve played our song,’ Rose reminded me.
Rose wore: plaid skirt and tight sweater, ballet flats. It was Audrey from Twin Peaks. Or was it Tai from Clueless?
I wore: leather jacket, cream skirt, stockings and wedge heels. I was going Whisky A Go Go. Sable Starr or Lori Lightning. Either. Both.
‘And each time they play it . . . ker-ching!’ Jenner said, fixing his cool eyes on me. ‘Get those hugging arms ready.’
The fans came bearing gifts: drawings of us; T-shirts, like my ‘Like you, but harder’ one, that they’d designed themselves; cuddly toys; presents for our parents. There were ten of them – five winners and their plus ones – all looking at us ravenously, as though they hadn’t eaten in days. Most had smoothed their backstage-pass stickers onto their chests, which I had to laugh at. Were they visiting The Dolls or News Ltd?
Fans always wanted to tell you their experience of you, to try to emblazon themselves upon your memory. They first listened to you when they were thirteen. They are on the street team. They once met you that time in the queue at McDonald’s. They shook your hand outside a stage door. I nodded along, but one girl was just staring like her eyeballs were molesting me and I thought I’d scream if I had to stand there another second.
Another woman was crowding Rose into the wall as she tried to hold court about how blessed we were to be here. ‘Rose. Rose. Rose.’
‘Hang on, darling, I’ll get to you again in a minute,’ Rose said in her schoolmarm tone. Rose actually didn’t mind all this. She saw the fans as her little choir, to conduct into some sort of orderly tunefulness and send them off singing more sweetly. My mind just wanted to float off like a balloon until they were craning uselessly after a little speck.
I went to the toilet to top up my levels with the miniatures of vodka I’d secured in the waistband of my skirt. Jenner had advised us to adopt coping strategies to help us deal with fame, and my favourite was Smirnoff.
Rose’s coping strategy was lovely things. She’d requested pink drapes, soft lighting, incense and chilled strawberries for this backstage room, although that was nothing compared with the extravagancies she’d would go on to demand from US promoters, spurred on by the examples she’d seen on The Smoking Gun. Worse, Rose was always rude to people she dealt with, particularly anyone in hospitality and anyone hired to drive us around. That was my pet hate, I mused, pulling my stockings straight in the mirror and going back out. I was rude to grabby people, not people paid sod all to help us. They were the ones who could get the drugs, weren’t they?
'Cherry Bomb' is availabe now through Allen & Unwin.