The idea for Akard Drearstone came as I idly examined two sheets of blank square pink paper at my hated insurance job in August 1975. In a burst of inexplicable high energy it occurred to me to make these into a record album, which I proceeded to draw over the next hour, taping the sheets together to form a double album’s front and back cover with interior notes. I remember poring over the completed thing for days afterwards, enthralled with the results, song titles and band member names immediately calling forth plot and characters.
I based the album on the character of Akard Drearstone, whom I’d first used in the Fall 1974 comic The Story of Lester Quartz’s Fantastic Journey, much of which was also drawn at my Praetorian Mutual Life Insurance Company desk, don’t ask me why. The 288-page comic can now be termed a graphic novel, though I had no idea of that concept at the time. In any case it showcased Akard Drearstone, his obscenely-titled rock group, and his assassination onstage by CIA agents.
Soon after drawing the album I wrote fourteen loopy songs, as a novel about these rock stars would need those off the wall, satirical tracks for their album, originally named February Death Trip but later simply Akard Drearstone. The emerging novel prompted a three-page outline that turned out to be surprisingly close to the massive 1,587-page, 661,581-word rough draft which exploded 1976-1978 into the Ongoing Work of Humanity.
The Hit Single: 29 Stairway/Absolute Albatross Greasies
The first two hit single songs came before the group’s masterpiece album. I’d written them a year earlier as stream of consciousness for the Lester Quartz comic. They came from poems I typed at work on rolls of adding machine tape, and they’re left intact in the novel in all their impenetrable foolishness. A young man hit on the head with a cinder block, and subsequently deciding he must exchange his print job shop for lead guitar, would write these kinds of songs. For instance:
softly reading by the baptist basement preacher window …
the midday potato chips
the ninth grade literacy test
the blasted light on
the Twenty-Nine Stairway!
cars on the dirty way
mind snapping at the ice bitties
sun drifting through some diagonal visor
vast spaceship leaking curare
busy trumpets on primitive commerce street
ungodly procreative new jersey suburbs
vacated for the canyons of
the Twenty-Nine Stairway!
Akard Drearstone: The October 1975 Album that Changed the Course of Rock History
While writing the first draft of the novel and generously dipping into the fourteen silly songs along the way, I decided that Akard would in fact be much more of a poet; after learning from his hit single how to better write verse, he would develop a rigorous rhyming scheme and serious content. The fourteen songs for the album were cut to eight and I vigorously reworked them through May 1979. “Neutral Mindglow,” based on a dream of alien contact, was the last done and the apex of all the songs. Its first stanza:
in memory polluted I had planned this party right
I knew the summer solstice by the waves of silent light
that spread from neutral mindglow lamps to chip the thoroughfares
as friends streamed to my house up all the massive urban stairs
to drink the blood of darkness: Jake and Marty got depressed
and Billy looked like metal getting blowtorched by this quest
I left the songs untouched up to the present, with one exception. Finally deciding to make Akard a publishable novel meant giving up the idea of including the songs as an appendix, and I decided I’d just quote lines from a few for flavor. But for the first time since 1979 I did revise one. A couple lines in “Streets Textured With Death” had never felt right and I figured they’d mar the final published novel. With that exception, the eight final songs, which appear in their entirety only on the website, are their sculptured 1978-79 versions.
copyright 2017 by Michael D. Smith