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Five that influenced me: Trey R Barker

Mom’s bookshelves were a wonderland of universes. Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions (the title of which scared me to death when I was exceedingly young), Fahrenheit 451, The Stand, Down To A Sunless Sea. Simak and Clarke, Hemingway and Steinbeck; Bruce Catton’s Civil War trilogy: Mr. Lincoln’s Army, Glory Road, and A Stillness at Appomattox. Our house was the biggest library on the block and she made sure I had a public library card when I was in elementary school. She looked at every book selection I made from both the public and school libraries, read most of them, and even read the first book I ever checked out on my own with me…Katie and the Big Snow, starring Katie the Snowplow.

But it wasn’t only books at our house. Music was just as omnipresent. Mom’s vinyl was eclectic: from Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s recording of Handel’s Messiah to The O’Jays Live in London. When I was but a wee tyke, I bought 45s like the Spinners’ “Rubberband Man,” Alan O’Day’s “Undercover Angel,” Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.’s “You Don’t Have To Be A Star,” and whatever other bubble gum floated through the Top 40. I sat in front of our giant cabinet stereo, volume LOUD, playing records relentlessly and banging on a brown lunch bag with two pencils. I’ve been listening and banging ever since.

So, with that bit of knowledge in your head, here is my list of five things I dig.


Hill Street Blues

Yeah, Adam-12 and Dragnet were cool, but they were also antiseptic. Hill Street Blues was not. It was dirty and grimy and it smelled and sweated like a cheap whore and the boys in blue didn’t always win and weren’t always nice but they sure as shit didn’t lecture me on Truth, Justice, and the American Way. The stand-out moments were the pilot when Hill and Renko’s cruiser breaks down, and they walk into a drug deal and get shot, and the episode with the giant cock sculpture that actually spewed. I remember laughing my ass off when I saw it. Come on, I was in high school. Of course, I laughed.


Michael Jahn’s Blacksheep novels: The Devil In The Slot, and The Hawk Flies On Sunday

The TV show Baa Baa Blacksheep rocked my socks. Planes, explosions, boozing pilots, hot nurses in extremely tight and short shorts. And, like Hill Street Blues, it wasn’t antiseptic (though not as dark and dirty). But even better than the show? The books.

There was a plaza-style mall about two miles from my house where the old people gathered and read the obits and chortled over who they’d outlived. In that mall was a tiny bookstore and many was the day that I’d hop on my bike and pedal my balls off to spend two hours roaming amongst the books.

One day I saw the cover of Devil In The Slot. Blazing orange, planes in mid-battle, the always beautiful Vought F4U Corsair blasting through the middle. I almost didn’t need to know what the book was about, I was sold on cover alone. Soon after devouring that I found the follow-up, The Hawk Flies On Sunday. Not as cool a cover but it didn’t matter.

I’ve since connected with Michael Jahn and read his work and he’s a good writer, but the Blacksheep novels are not high art. They weren’t supposed to be. Yet for this young reader, those books were passionate. Sex and booze and all that, but mostly the characters had passion. Those same characters would probably read as cartoonish and cardboard now, but at the time, with my limited palatte, those men and women were amazing. More to the point, those books got me thinking about writing. In fact, my first stories were stolen directly from Jahn. They were about a squadron of pilots (something like the 165 1/2th squadron because as a 12-year old that was hysterically funny) who fought constantly, drank huge amounts, screwed every nurse they could find…. Hmmmmm, I wonder what that sounds like.

It was because of those books that I took my first wobbly steps as a writer, so thank you, Mr. Jahn.


Stephen King’s The Shining (specifically chapters 25 and 30)

Understand, this is still one of my favorite of all of King’s novels. The slow unraveling of Jack Torrance is a thing of dark, disturbed beauty. King is always good and frequently great and The Shining is an example of that. The chapters surrounding Room 217 amazed me when I read them. I was on vacation with Mom and my brother in Colorado, the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years. I’d already decided maybe I could write and had written some of the fight plane stories I mentioned earlier, but this was my first big stab at reading adult fiction.

It blew me away. In Chapter 25 when Danny finally finds the balls to go into the room that he and King have been circling endlessly, when he pulled back the shower curtain and found the rotting woman, I stopped breathing. I was scared to death with him and ran with him to the door. When he got there, I was just as relieved as he was.

But then the fucking door wouldn’t open? And the woman grabbed his neck? I swear to you I felt her bony fingers on my neck and thought I was going to die.

I don’t remember actually screaming and throwing the paperback (the original one with the yellow cover and creepy eyes) across the camper, but I might have.

So in Chapter 30 when Jack went to see Room 217, I was in cardiac distress before we even got there. Because I knew what was going to happen. He’d find the woman, she’d kill him or seduce him or booze him but regardless it was going to be awful.

Except King screwed with me. He emptied the room this time. Nary was there a woman, naked or rotting. Except when Jack left the room…he heard the woman. Fussing about behind the door just after he’d closed it.

She was there and it was an epitome for me.

At that moment, I decided to be a writer for sure. Because I realized that King had led me exactly where he wanted, he’d made me feel exactly what he wanted. Had he suckered me? Sure, but I was good with that. The suckering was exquisite. Give her to me when I don’t expect her, then take her away when I do expect her.

King wanted something specific from me and he had gotten it and I was in awe of a writer’s ability to do that. It was the same thing Peter Straub did in Ghost Story and the Blue Rose Trilogy later and what James Lee Burke still does to me in his best novels. But The Shining was the first book that cemented it for me.


A Two-fer: the Madison Scouts 1981 DCI Show and Rush’s 1981 Moving Pictures

I’ve mashed these up because they happened to me so quickly relative to each other, and because both of these bits of music expanded my musical landscape the way King and Straub and Burke expanded my literary landscape.

When I was in the 5th grade, Mom bought me a snare drum. I think it was anger management (something I still use it for today). By the 7th grade, when I was in band, I had begun to buy my own music. AC/DC’s Back in Black, Journey’s Escape, and Billy Squier’s Don’t Say No. I loved them all. In fact, the AC/DC and Squier are still in my personal playlist.

But the album that hit me the hardest was Rush’s Moving Pictures, and drummer Neil Peart. I bought it while visiting my uncle in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He was a rock and roll guy but when I asked him about Rush, he shrugged. I loved the cover and so took a chance. It was the best musical chance I ever took.

The Madison Scouts are a drum and bugle corps from Wisconsin. Their 1981 show had, among other tunes, “Malaguena” and “Downwind,” a percussion feature.

So what do these two disparate musical items have in common for me? They both took me to a place where percussion was something more than rhythm. It was the first time I’d heard percussion as a distinct voice.

Peart refused then, and now, to simply play back beats. Listen to his entrance in “The Camera Eye,” or the odd counter-point he lays down in “Witch Hunt.” Nowhere in that album is there just a back beat. And let’s not even talk about “YYZ,” still one of the hottest things I’ve ever heard. Dig the opening. The Toronto airport code played on crotales? Come on, that’s just straight up sexy.

The Madison Scouts show, while a different kind of music, was the same aesthetic. The percussion section, with infinitely varied colors and timbres, filled and expanded “Malaguena,” and “Downwind,” and turned them into something amazing. The percussion section that year was able to communicate with me wordlessly but with raging passion. Every note on a snare or a tenor, every cascade in their tonal bass drum line, everything the pit percussion (mallets and hand percussion) played, was another bit of this new language that I had only just discovered. To this day, I can play every note of both the Scouts show and (hehe…mostly) of Moving Pictures, and they can still bring me to tears.

So that’s the list and what’s interesting to me as I read it is that I experienced them all within a relatively short time; maybe two years total. They are the Trey-prototype. As a man nearing middle age, I like dark image (1)and dirty, I like disturbing and edgy, I like percussion that goes beyond a back beat. All of those likes are in this list and that sort of pleasantly surprised me.

And hey, I’ll still laugh at a good dick joke, too.


Trey R. Barker is the author of 2,000 Miles To Open Road, Exit Blood, Remembrance and Regrets, The Cancer Chronicles, as well as hundreds of short stories and thousands of non-fiction pieces. His newest novel, Slow Bleed, is just out from Five Star and his next in the Barefield series,Death Is Not Forever, will be published this winter. He is a deputy sheriff in Illinois and a member of the Illinois Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, as well as the Quad Cities Cyber Crimes Federal Working Group.