by Robin Umbley

Hauck, former guitarist for the Atlantics and the ’80s pop-synth band
Ball & Pivot, is looking rather professorial in his jeans, white
linen shirt, and tan corduroy blazer. His thick, dark brown wavy hair
barely has a hint of gray. It’s a look that seems apropos for his
profession these days. Although he now has an MBA degree, he describes
himself as simply a writer. Not only does he do freelance work for various
organizations and is the editor of
Renaissance magazine, he has written a novel called Pistonhead.
Not unexpectedly, the book is based on his experiences in a local rock
’n’ roll band that never quite made it to the top.

from writing rock ’n’ roll songs to writing a novel hasn’t been
the big step that it appears to be. For Tom, it seems like a natural
progression. He explains, “I’m a writer; it’s what I do. I wanted
to say something intelligent to people that was worthwhile that had
to do with my experience—both in the music industry AND as a factory
worker on an assembly line. There’s tension between those things and
there’s a story there.”

story centers around Charlie Sinclair, a guitarist in a moderately popular
local band, also named Pistonhead, who still must make a living at his
day job on a software production line. Tom elaborates that
offers a different perspective than other rock ’n’ roll books such
as memoirs and bios: “There have been quite a few rock ’n’ roll
memoirs by successful musicians over the years, and they tend to be
all the same, you know: musician works hard, becomes famous, deals with
drug addiction, his wife leaves him, he arrives at a certain point of
awareness and says, ‘Oh look! I survived! Here I am!’ There are
very few books or movies or works that focus on the lives of musicians
who are struggling, who haven’t gotten there yet… and from my experience
in the music scene, there are thousands of them… thousands of us!
We’re pretty good; we put CDs out, we play clubs and colleges… and
we haven’t quite gotten there yet. We’re not riding around in limousines…
we’re not even at Spinal Tap level yet. So this is Charlie’s story
and Charlie kind of has a rough two weeks and it’s about how he changes
over the course of those two weeks.”

adds, “One of my goals was to create a character to give voice to
those guys—and women—who just slog away in bands or in any creative
process, and have day jobs and drag their sorry asses out of bed at
seven o’clock in the morning and go off to work.”

felt the novel form was the best way to write about his experiences,
because, as he says, if he wrote his own memoir, “No one would buy
it because no one wants to read a memoir about someone who hasn’t
made it.” As he puts it, his own life doesn’t have any sensational
“media value.”

of signing with a traditional publisher, Tom Hauck chose to self-publish
this book through For one, he says that the novel doesn’t
fit an established genre in the publishing world and traditional publishers
generally don’t put out books without a defined demographic. But Tom
sees a similarity between selling a record independently and selling
a book. He compares the potential to market his own books to how “Lonelyhearts,”
the Atlantics’ local hit and arguably their biggest song, became successful:
“After we left MCA records, we went back to the studio to record a
single with two sides, “Can’t Wait Forever,” and “Lonelyhearts.”
Our manager at the time said “Lonelyhearts” would never sell. ‘It’s
too aggressive, it’s too punk, they’re [radio stations] never going
to play it’… We left our manager, and sold the single out the back
of the car.”

you’re probably not going to see
Pistonhead at your local bookstore anytime soon. Instead,
available for sale on Tom admits that the Internet is “a
huge marketplace and like going into iTunes, there’s a lot of good
stuff, and it’s all there [presumably meaning not so good stuff] and
hopefully the cream rises.”

like that of a short story writer, Tom Hauck’s writing style is concise
and pithy.
Pistonhead checks in at a fast-paced 174 pages. “I
try not to bore people,” he explains. “As a reader, I’m very easily
bored… It could be my ‘training’ as a pop music songwriter where
you have three minutes and you’re on your own. If you don’t hook
the listener in the first ten seconds, you’re done.”

writing a relatively short book is more difficult than writing a long
one. The editing process is tedious. Tom says, “I went over this book
probably 50 times. I kept cutting stuff. I cut a lot out. It’s hard.
It’s very, very hard. That’s why it takes time. You should NEVER
write something and put it out right away. Put it away, come back to
it six months later, look at it again, and if you do that, you’ll
be amazed at how awful it is! Time is your friend.”

very busy, Tom Hauck is constantly writing and has plans to write a
series of intelligence/spy type novels. He says that in the first book,
the protagonist battles a group like Blackwater, “one that has a legitimate
side but underneath there is a vicious, corrupt evil empire and they’re
American-based.” Another book in the works deals with the hypocrisy
of a truly evil evangelical preacher. On the music front, Tom no longer
plays guitar publicly, but seeing the success of synth-heavy bands like
the Killers, he was inspired to create a MySpace page for Ball &
Pivot. “We’ll see what happens,” he says.


Review of Pistonhead
by Thomas A. Hauck
Inc.; 2009; 174pp.)
Review by Francis DiMenno

a straightforward chronicle that reads more like an ingeniously compressed
memoir than like a work of fiction, Thomas Hauck, formerly of the Atlantics
and Ball & Pivot, sets out to describe an event-laden week in the
life of a rock musician who is almost, but not quite, a star.

novel’s greatest strength is to be found in its descrip-tion of the
protagonist’s character and how he responds to his milieu. Hauck shrewdly
chooses to open the novel with a telling scene in which his everyman
rock star, Charlie Sinclair, is faced with every musician’s worst
nightmare: It’s show time, and the band’s chronically fucked-up
dust-head vocalist is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, the mobbed-up
club owner is off fuming and raging in the wings.

people who have lived the life of a struggling entertainer will readily
identify with Hauck’s precisely delineated descriptions of the various
hazards and pitfalls in the world of low-level show biz that stand as
obstacles to success. The dead end jobs. The disastrous gigs in front
of downright hostile arena audiences. The unsympathetic family members.
The resentful, pushy mooks from the old neighborhood. The grasping girlfriends.
The venal groupies and junk-peddlers and promoters and, worst of all,
the fucked-up band-mates. Those who are new to the racket and have not
yet encountered these life-lessons could with profit study this book
as a worst-case scenario. And those who are unlikely to endure this
path but who are curious about what a person has to do to make it in
this perilous world will find many of their questions answered.

aims are modest. This is a short book. It is not particularly complex
in its plotting. And, from a literary standpoint, the tale of The Boy
Who Sets Out to Make Good But Who Eventually Realizes That Perhaps There
Are Better Things Than Stardom is a rather hoary one. But the novel
has the one great thing that separates good narrative fiction from an
indifferent phone-it-in: it is meticulously, convincingly, and evincingly
detailed. Superfluous passages are few.

the descriptions of the hapless handicapped souls with whom Charlie
Sinclair works at his dreary, temporary, assembly-line day-job seem
a bit too calculated to tug at our lapels and keen for our sympathy.
But the workplace characters, and their dialogues, are nonetheless memorable.
Another disconnect I noticed was that although the novel is ostensibly
set in the 1990s, one is left with the slightly unsettling feeling that
much of it has been transposed from the early ’80s and merely spruced
up with some contemporary references (e.g., cell phones;
The Simpsons).
Another thing that troubles me is that, although the book is written
in the third person, there seems to be little, if any distance between
the implied narrator and the protagonist. The book could just as easily
have been written in the first person.

reservations aside, I have seldom encountered a more interesting account
of the life of a working musician. Furthermore, there are few, if any
novels I have read which manage to render with such painstaking detail
and accuracy the sensations of performing, both on stage and off.

a novel,
Pistonhead is an odd duck. It’s not a strictly literary
work (but who would want that, anyway?). It’s not an exploitative
genre exercise (which would be of no lasting, or of barely even more
than ephemeral, value). Rather, it’s cross between a journalistic
expose of Entertainment Babylon and a quasi-documentary account of a
rock ’n’ roll musician—one with a great many very thinly disguised
music business and local color flourishes. I read it in one sitting.
It was that kind of book.

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