Written by Robert Brockway
Atmosphere is everything.
Well, it’s most everything.
Well, it’s definitely a thing, anyway.
Hi, I’m Robert. I wrote The Unnoticeables, a very strange book about angels and monsters and faceless psychopaths and the hidden code behind the universe. I did this because I don’t know how to do normal human things like build furniture or mortgage.
Am I using that right? Is that a verb, or what?
I think that’s a very important step in writing a book: Not being able to do other things.
Another very important step is nailing down the atmosphere. The first half of The Unnoticeables takes place in the punk scene of New York City, 1977. Some folks think it’s easier to set your novel in a real place, and maybe they’re right—but NYC, 1977, may as well be a spaceport orbiting Jupiter. It doesn’t exist anymore. All the iconic punk venues featured in the book have either fizzled out, exploded like an M-80 in a beer can, or worse: slowly bloated, grew a ponytail, and started catering to tourists. The Bowery is a great place to get a cappuccino now; it used to be a great place to get stabbed.
So I couldn’t just hop on a plane to get a sense of how my setting actually moved and breathed. I needed a time machine. Luckily, I had one: Music.
In the course of writing the book, I have assembled several massive playlists, ordered by time, by place, by the attitude of the character I was writing, or just by some drunken impulse that I no longer recall.
The younger version of one of my protagonists, Carey, just wants to drink and have sex. He’s only good at one of those things. You can guess which. He really doesn’t want to be involved in my plot. He doesn’t want to see angels, or fight faceless maniacs in the sewers, but they keep messing with his friends and he needs those to bum beer money off of. Young Carey is all the bouncy, goofy grins of The Ramones. He’s the tattered arrogance of Richard Hell, the slurred fight in the MC5, and the unapologetic immaturity of The Dictators.
Flash forward thirty years, and Carey is now an old man. He’s homeless, living on the streets of LA. The decades-long fight against these inconceivable monsters has claimed every friend he’s ever had, and what was once a big, never-ending party has long since devolved into alcoholism. Older Carey is the barroom dirge of Rocket From The Tombs. He’s the aimless fury of The Damned, and the wry, world-weary cynicism of Gang of Four.
Ugh, listen to me ramble like I know what I’m talking about. I was born three years after the whole scene imploded. I’m not an expert on New York City, classic punk, or even music in general. In fact, I’m not even very good at being a fan. I can’t list every member of every band I listen to, where their best album was recorded, or who mixed it. I don’t even read the liner notes. The only thing I know about music is that I can’t write without it. My first business expense was a damn fine pair of headphones, which I wear for twelve hours a day, every day.
And that’s because for atmosphere—for vibe, for attitude, for feeling how a dead place moved back when it was alive—nothing beats the beat. If you can feel that beat in this book—if it smells like stale beer, sounds like cheap guitars played poorly but with great enthusiasm, and reading too many chapters at once gives you a vicious hangover—then I’ve done my job.