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Johnny Alien talks 'Marmite Cowboy'

Johnny Alien, also known as John Allen, spent many years as the lead singer of the Big Bad Bollocks, a long-running Celtic pub rock band based in Western Massachusetts. In recent years, however, the onetime lunatic frontman has turned to more literary pursuits. This has led to the publication of his first book, "Marmite Cowboy," which is now available as an e-book from SmashWords, at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and all the usual online booksellers.

Johnny Alien a/k/a John Allen in the Big Bad Bollocks
John Allen
'Marmite Cowboy'
John Allen

With the help of some liquid refreshment, the animated Englishman held forth on his first book, obviously a labor of love.

Examiner: What is a Marmite Cowboy?

Johnny Alien: A Marmite Cowboy is a curious amalgam of deep Britishness (in this case a Northern English "Woollyback" Village boy) and an incurable fascination with most things American. A condition evolving in childhood and continuing throughout early adulthood. An obsession with the cultural iconography of American: films, books, music, language and style - as viewed from the damp green hills of Albion.

A Marmite Cowboy is a schizophrenic collision of romance, nostalgia, denial, self delusion, alcohol and drugs, a reverie of confused ideas around identity, morphing into a Benny Hill-esque identikit mutation. A working class, William Blake wannabe in cowboy boots with a taste for soul, punk pock and good pizza.

A Marmite Cowboy is a dreamer and a fool! A man-boy determined to see through to the end a plan which he never fully considered the consequences of.

Examiner: How did you come to write the book? For many years, you played in a band. How does music inform your writing?

J.A.: Writing the book was an outgrowth of writing songs for my band Big Bad Bollocks. All my songs are compressed narratives. I realize now that I was writing stories in the only way I was capable of at the time. Writing in song form taught me to edit. Working with musicians who knew their craft better than I knew mine pushed me to a clearer understanding of what I was trying to do. I am eternally grateful to the musicians I have worked with, they assisted me in discovering my talent. As a performer through their musical support and as collaborators, inspirers and facilitators. My book is the current net result of all my creative aspirations. Delivering my lyrics in bars, clubs and theaters forged my style and approach to writing - a methodology entangled with the need to perform.

Examiner: How does the writer's life compare with the rocker's?

J.A.: Playing with a band is one of the greatest and most enjoyable things I have ever done. When I write I need to take breaks from the necessarily solitary practice and head out to a bar open mic and "perform my words". It provides me with a performance fix and it makes the words, and me, work for a response. The reactions I receive are a valuable tool in the shaping and editing of my narratives. I have begun work on a book about performing with my band but it could be a while before it finds the secure wrapping of a book - virtual or otherwise. Then again, you never know!

Examiner: How is the process of doing a book in 2013 different than the old model?

J.A.: When I began writing seriously I had a short story published in the Massachusetts Literary Review. This led to being courted by a couple of big New York agents for a while, the problem was that I only had short stories completed. I didn't have a full length manuscript. It took me too long to come up with a full length manuscript and I lost their interest in me commercially. Although their interest and guidance was instrumental in pushing me to convert a pile of loosely connected short stories into the book.

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