Dawnie Walton’s’ The Final Revival of Opal & Nev ‘rewrites’ 70s music journalism: NPR

Dawnie Walton stepped down as associate editor of Gasoline to write The final rebirth of Opal & Nev.

Rayon Richards / Simon and Schuster

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Rayon Richards / Simon and Schuster

Dawnie Walton stepped down as associate editor of Gasoline to write The final rebirth of Opal & Nev.

Rayon Richards / Simon and Schuster

Dawnie Walton worked as associate editor at Gasoline in 2015, when she decided to quit her job to become a novelist.

“I was writing on the kind of edges of my day, waking up at 5 in the morning, staying awake [late] sometimes if I had the energy after work to plug me in, “she said.” And I just thought, … maybe it’s time to do something completely selfish and take this risk.

Walton’s first novel, The final revival of Opal & Nev, is the result of this risk. The story centers on a fictional 1970s interracial rock duo: Opal is a black afro-punk proto singer from Detroit, and Nev is a goofy white British singer-songwriter.

Opal and Nev rose to fame in 1971, when a riot broke out during one of their concerts in which their black drummer was beaten to death by a white crowd. The book is told in the form of a fake oral story written by Sunny, the first black editor of a music magazine – who also happens to be the daughter of the late drummer.

Walton credits her career as a journalist with helping her write the novel: “There’s so much of that career in this book,” she says. “There’s the very form of oral history. There’s the character of Sunny, the reporter, all of these things really informed a lot of what was on my mind and on my heart.”

Interview highlights

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, by Dawnie Walton
The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, by Dawnie Walton

To listen to and love a wide variety of music

I really came from a music loving family. My grandparents love jazz artists and my parents were soulful, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder. So I had a wonderful foundation in black American music in all its forms. And I loved it all. And when I was a teenager, my curiosity went to different places. So it was in the early 90s when Nirvana broke through and changed absolutely everything. And I was drawn to this music because it seemed taboo to me. It was exciting for me and a little scary for me in a weirdly appealing way, alternative rock, indie rock and a lot of music from the UK. The problem with this was that I rarely saw myself reflected in it. In my hometown there was a dance club for all ages that played a lot of this music and I was often one of the only black girls there, usually the only black girl there. And it was difficult for me. And it made me wonder who I was.

On Opal and Nev, the fictional duo at the heart of their novel

Opal is a black American woman from Detroit. She’s a singer and not the best singer, but she definitely has an ‘X’ factor, that thing you can’t put your finger on that makes her fascinating to watch. She’s a wonderful performer, and Nev finds her sort of an amateur hour from Detroit. He’s a white Englishman from Birmingham and a bit of an eccentric songwriter. It begins in the folk tradition, but it has chameleonic tendencies. As the trends change, the music changes, Nev tends to change with these things. And they become famous together in 1971 thanks to a riot that occurs during one of their concerts and that throws them into the spotlight and they radicalize a bit. So they make music a bit ahead of their time, a bit punk, and it’s very political in nature. And they can only last a couple of years that way, and then they sort of break up.

On the real musicians who inspired Opal and Nev

For Opal, I got three [musicians] These were really essential inspirations for me. There was Grace Jones, mainly for her style and performance art. There was Nona Hendryx, who is a third of the band, Labelle, which was a big funk rock trio in the 1970s. And Nona was sort of the songwriter in the band and probably the most political of the band as well. And then there was Betty Davis, who was an early ’70s funk star on the downtown New York scene.

And for Nev, it was a little harder for me to put my finger on it because he really was a chameleon, but in terms of physique, aesthetics, I was thinking of David Bowie. I thought of Elton John. I was thinking about the songwriter types and some folk from Laurel Canyon. So the two are fusions of real people that I’m a fan of.

On a southern group in the book displaying Confederate flags on stage

I was thinking of Lynyrd Skynyrd. They’re from Jacksonville … That’s where I’m from, and they went to Robert E. Lee High, which was the high school I should have gone to, except I went to a magnet public school. And Lynyrd Skynyrd, where I’m from, was huge. You would go to any kind of concert and people would start shouting randomly “Freebird!” And the Confederate flag, growing up, I would see it everywhere. You would see it and gas stations on key chains at the counter, you would see it on bikinis at the beach.

I have the head of the record company, Howie, in the book that talks about how he thought it was just another slice of Americana, because it’s shown in Blown away by the wind. It’s on the General Lee, the car that is the star, basically, of the Dukes of Hazzard. And I remember being young and watching The Dukes of Hazzard with my cousins ​​and not knowing what it was on the roof of the car. And my parents not wanting to push all this heavy stuff on me about what it meant, and wondering why they seemed a little uncomfortable with us watching The Dukes of Hazzard, and that was all the things I struggled with when I got older … when I left the South, when I lived in other places and saw it.

How being involved with Florida A&M, an HBCU, changed her life

It was the best decision I think I ever made in terms of decisions for myself, my career and my studies. This is the place where I feel like my identity has finally come together and my self-confidence came into play and my comfort with myself when I stepped out into the world – my HBCU experience, I attribute a lot to him. …

In my high school experience I had a lot of white friends and I felt a little different when I was among black people my age and projected that on them, I now realize that I thought they were. thought I was weird or an “Oreo” or not somehow happy or a little sad. I think going into a Black College experience, just being disillusioned with it all and understanding how beautiful it is to be able to be yourself all the time, there was no such thing. I could never talk about race the same way with white friends I had in high school, as much as I love them. There had been times that made me uncomfortable. There were sometimes comments that made me uncomfortable and I would kind of swallow them, and not having that experience again, to be able to bring everything I was – including the weird music – … c was a huge eye-opener for me. And creating that kind of community in college has been one of the gifts of my life and taught me a lot about how to move forward in my life and what kind of community I want to have around me, and that bring me peace and strength.

Sam Briger and Kayla Lattimore produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper, and Petra Mayer adapted it for the web.

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