Defending Your Influences

We recently had award-winning author Michael Kardos as a guest on the Writer Types crime and mystery podcast. We started out by asking Michael—who is also a drummer—about his musical influences instead of his writing influences. Michael was a good sport about it, admitting that Billy Joel and his long-time drummer, Liberty DeVitto, were two of his heroes growing up.

My co-host and I both come from mostly punk/Indie rock backgrounds, so his response gave us a (hopefully) funny bit that ran throughout our discussion. At some point we even got around to Michael’s excellent books, including BLUFF, BEFORE HE FINDS HER, and THE THREE-DAY AFFAIR.

The exchange was played for humor by all three of us, but it got me thinking about influences. I’ve shared here before about my own drumming and the drummers that inspired me, including everybody from John Bonham, Keith Moon and Bun E. Carlos, to D.J. Bonebrake, Alan Myers and Grant Hart. By far, the one musical influence I’ve taken the most grief for over the years is Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts. And not just from the die-hard techie types who worship at the throne of prog rock gods like Rush’s Neal Peart. I’ve been told that Charlie Watts is “mediocre at best” by metal heads, punks, hippies and every other kind of rocker in-between. And that’s fine, because in my mind he’s one of the most tasteful, nuanced and song-oriented drummers around.

Likewise, I’m a crime and mystery author who is just as influenced by Kurt Vonnegut, Umberto Eco, Katherine Dunn and Neal Stephenson, as I am by Raymond ChandlerKem Nunn, Don Winslow and Jo Nesbo. I guess the upshot of this post is that we all start out as fans first and, as fans, we’re attracted to the things that capture our interest and imagination. Some influences talk directly to your soul and remain important throughout our lives, but I’ve found that many of my influences are tied directly to specific important periods—more a reflection of who I was or wanted to be than who I actually am. I used to listen to a lot of Beck, but these days I get a similar thrill from Ty Segall. Etc.

In the end it boils down to taste, and tastes evolve and change. It’s something that author Gabino Iglesias recently captured in a Tweet.

Or, as they say at my kids’ school— “Don’t yuck my yum.”

I assume Gabino was referring to the dominance of Avengers: Infinity War at the box office this weekendand the reciprocal griping about superhero movies on social media. But he could have easily been talking about music, books, NASCAR, miming, dog shows or competitive knitting. Some people really like certain things, a few other people really don’t like those same exact things, while most everybody else just wants to get out of their own heads for an hour or two.

Whether you believe that we’re the sum of our influences, or that our influences are directional at best—don’t bother defending them. Go out and collect a few more instead. Which is why I’m currently listening to Billy Joel, and enjoying it.


S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

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