Philadelphia native, out author and musician Melissa Price takes readers on a decades-long trip through rock superstardom with her latest book, “Steel Eyes.”
The titular character is a mega-famous rock singer known for her jeweled masks and costumes in front of rabid, adoring fans, but anonymous and ordinary on the street when not dressed up.
Sound familiar? Yeah, we thought so too. Lady Gaga, Jem or Ke$ha, anybody?
But Price said Steel Eyes is a rock star in her own right, with a career spanning several decades.
“She is original. That is why I positioned her in the book as a worldwide phenomenon,” Price said. “The story needed to take place over several years. In order to do that and still have it be relevant to modern times, [the story had to take place across those eras]. The prologue takes place in the 1990s but the story rolls back to the early 1980s and then I bring you from the ’80s through the 1990s into the 2000s.”
Price, a musician herself, said Steel Eyes isn’t an idealized version of her own musical aspirations, which leans more into jazz than rock.
“There’s a lot more Steel Eyes in me than there is me in her,” Price said. “A lot of jazz musicians I grew up on were Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. I grew up on all the jazz greats. When I became a young adult and had music opportunities, I’d say the Allman Brothers and Carole King were a big influence. I reference a lot of different artists and a lot of different songs [in the novel] because they encapsulate what is going on in the story or the chronological time in the book.”
Price said the story of Steel Eyes, underneath the fame and glamour, not to mention some danger, action and intrigue, is a meditation on the role of women in the history of rock music.
“Women have always been second-class citizens in rock music,” she said. “I wanted to be able to draw a contrast. In today’s world, it’s a lot easier for young women coming up to have role models in rock. But it wasn’t like that back then. I allowed the characters to make those comments [about the way women are perceived in music]. The female rock musicians make those comments in a few places. The guys in the band are partying like rock stars but we don’t see the women do that but when they talk about it, they comment that if they acted like the men in the band, they’d be trashed for it. The reason is the public expected male rock stars to be dogs but they don’t know what to make of women rock stars. Janis Joplin died at 27 so we don’t really know what some of the early women rock icons would have become. In writing the book, I thought, What would it have looked like if a women would have made it to that level of fame and played it out?”
Price, who now calls both Arizona and the Caribbean home, is returning to Philadelphia for a book signing at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room.
“Philly is my hometown and Giovanni’s Room was the place I went as a young person to get any kind of gay literature,” she said of her impending return to her old stomping grounds. “The authors that I liked and read are now my peers, which is exciting. When I moved from Philadelphia to Arizona, I donated half a car-full of lesbian fiction to the William Way Community Center. Here it is all those years later and I have to go buy some of those books again.”
Melissa Price hosts a reading and signing of “Steel Eyes” 6-8 p.m. Oct. 9 at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room, 345 S. 12th St. For more information, visit melissapriceauthor.com or call 215-923-9960.