"Wred Fright" is the nom-de-zine of Dr. Fred Wright, an English professor at Ursaline College outside Cleveland who wrote his doctoral thesis on zine culture. Some years back, he published the literary zine Drink Drank Drunk; these days he keeps company with the Underground Literary Alliance, a confederacy of zinesters that recently published his comedic novel, The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus. In a conversational, rambling fashion, the novel chronicles the misadventures of a fictional band sharing a house in an Ohio college town, using a point of view that shifts between the various musicians. Each chapter is structured as a song: The art-damaged bassist George Jah might chime in on a verse, the porn-addled drummer Funnybear keeping time on a chorus.
Why did you first publish Emus as a serial zine, instead of a full book?
Mainly just to trade with other zine publishers. I was getting to the point where I actually had to use money! I don't want to send somebody five bucks -- that's so impersonal! [Laughs.] And I wanted to write a novel, anyway. I wrote it all in one summer, in 2002, and I kinda wanted to experiment with serializing it, in the old Charles Dickens style. Some people have done it in the past -- Kathy Acker, in fact, was another one who published a novel serially in a zine, and I'm sure there are many others.
Much of the novel was based on your own musical experiences?
I think anybody who's ever played in a band will relate to a lot of it. I went to Bowling Green for undergrad and then Kent for a master's and Ph.D., so I lived basically in college towns for about a decade, and played in bands pretty much all the way through. So what I did in the book was condense it down to a representative year, and use some outlandish things, and some things I would just make up. Although sometimes I think the stuff that seems most outlandish were real things -- like pushing a refrigerator for a couple of miles to get it recycled. That actually happened.
Most books about music or rock bands concern the famous or successful. What does it mean to write about a college band that goes nowhere?
Some of the local bands, I really loved their songs as much as I loved someone who was a million-seller or more well known. But all those great bands in Kent and Bowling Green, the two towns I was most familiar with, none of them ever went anywhere commercially. But there were great stories, they made great music, they had a good time. So, I wondered about what success meant in music, and I wanted to tell the story of a band that goes nowhere -- it was the b-side of rock 'n' roll novels.
Why fiction, instead of simply writing about those bands?
I like fiction -- where you tell the truth through a lie, paradoxically. And I wanted also to see if I could tap into the quintessential local band: All the characters are combinations of all the bass players I played with through the years, or guitarists or drummers. Plus, at that time I was teaching in southern Ohio and it was a very small town. I missed my friends and I missed playing in a band, and so writing the Emus was sort of a way I could play in a band -- in my head. I think E.M. Forster once said that all fiction is rooted in desire. At that time the desire was definitely to play in a band, but there was really no practical way to do it, so it sort of manifested itself as the novel.
Wred Fright, Crazy Carl Robinson and Karen Lillis read. 7 p.m. Mon., July 23. Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2705 E. Carson St., South Side. Free. 412-381-3600 or www.josephbeth.com