Atlanta rocker McDade sketches musical journey in novel and songs

Author and songwriter of the novel “Songs by Honeybird" Peter McDade (drums) recently rehearsed with Jeff Jensen, running through the new songs from the book's soundtrack. The book release party will be on March 31 at Waller's Coffee Shop in Decatur. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Author and songwriter of the novel “Songs by Honeybird" Peter McDade (drums) recently rehearsed with Jeff Jensen, running through the new songs from the book's soundtrack. The book release party will be on March 31 at Waller's Coffee Shop in Decatur. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Drummer of ‘90s band Uncle Green writes a novel with a soundtrack.

Rocker turned writer Peter McDade has lived several lives, and all of them show up in his latest novel, “Songs by Honeybird” (Wampus Multimedia, $9.99)

There’s the graduate student, fighting to meet a deadline with a research project that keeps skittering out of bounds: That’s McDade.

There’s the rock ‘n’ roller dealing with tensions in a band: That’s McDade.

There’s the lovelorn student seeking a healed heart: That’s probably McDade, too.

We should assume that McDade is also the talking dog.

The pooch, a Bichon Frise/poodle mix who is the reincarnated spirit of Siddartha Gautama, is called Sid. For short.

All these characters are McDade, to a certain extent. He made that point in a recent interview during a sunny afternoon on the patio at the Universal Joint in Oakhurst.

Surely the most fun, for McDade, was getting the chance to be a Buddhist dog, dispensing wisecracking sage advice to his owner Nina. Sid has some of the best lines in the book, but he must share the stage with Atlanta itself.

Scenes evolve in Piedmont Park, Georgia State University, the South City Kitchen and a rapidly transforming Midtown.

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"Songs by Honeybird" is the newest novel by Atlanta musician/writer/teacher Peter McDade.

Credit: Wampus

"Songs by Honeybird" is the newest novel by Atlanta musician/writer/teacher Peter McDade.

Credit: Wampus

Combined ShapeCaption
"Songs by Honeybird" is the newest novel by Atlanta musician/writer/teacher Peter McDade.

Credit: Wampus

Credit: Wampus

The city performs ably as a leading character, from the handsome but sterile carriage house apartment behind a “brick manor” off East Rock Springs that is home to academic Ben Davies, to the dingy but colorful repurposed motel on 12th Street, where Nina has Socratic conversations with Sid.

A painful breakup takes place in front of the Krispy Kreme where Nina and a barback from Miller Union are forever parted. “Then he drove away,” writes McDade, “leaving her in front of the darkened Hot Donuts Now sign.” Melancholy.

“Songs by Honeybird” follows the efforts of Davies to track down the story of the first integrated rock band in Macon, a project that must succeed if Ben is to earn a Ph.D. in history.

It also traces Ben’s star-crossed romance with Nina, and her attempts to find a salve for her broken heart by pursuing her own musical horizons.

It is McDade’s second novel, and it contains much of his life, as an academic, musician and historian.

Mostly, the novel is full of music, which comes as no surprise. While growing up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, McDade, a drummer, helped form the group Uncle Green with his high school buddies, and the quartet moved en masse to Atlanta in the mid-1980s.

The four lived communally in a rented Stone Mountain house for 10 years, recorded seven albums (two of them under the new name 3 lb. Thrill) and toured extensively. They saw 46 states of the union. “We never played the Dakotas, Alaska or Hawaii,” said McDade.

They called it quits at the end of the 1990s but remained friends and reunited for several projects in the new century.

In the meantime, McDade went back to school, got bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgia State University, and became, like his character Ben, a history professor. He teaches at Clark Atlanta University and also steadily pursues an additional career as a novelist, while playing drums with fellow Atlantans such as Paul Melancon and the New Insecurities.

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Peter McDade's second novel, "Songs by Honeybird," invents a Macon band from the 1960s, and McDade and friends composed a soundtrack to go along with it. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Peter McDade's second novel, "Songs by Honeybird," invents a Macon band from the 1960s, and McDade and friends composed a soundtrack to go along with it. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
Peter McDade's second novel, "Songs by Honeybird," invents a Macon band from the 1960s, and McDade and friends composed a soundtrack to go along with it. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Playing the drums is just sheer fun, said McDade, 56, sipping an iced tea under a balmy spring sky. But writing is a close second. “It’s always been fun for me. Why else would I do it?” Not to get rich, he said. “The only thing that pays less than being a rock drummer is being a novelist.”

Happily married, with a husband and two teenaged daughters back home, McDade seems to have hit it rich in the non-material department. His oldest coaxed him into a running habit by joining Girls on the Run, and now McDade runs every early morning. That discipline, plus abstaining from the usual music business temptations, has kept him looking clear-eyed and athletic, more so than most middle-aged musicians.

McDade’s debut novel, 2018′s “The Weight of Sound,” for which he won a Georgia Author of the Year award, concerned the evolution of a country singer and included a soundtrack: a 14-track album with songs co-written by McDade in the persona of the enigmatic Spider Webb.

He did not intend to follow that up with another book-and-album combo, but the “Honeybird” subplot presented itself, and he couldn’t resist. It features race-baiting father Hank Honeybird, rock star son Harlan Honeybird, and a romance between his bass-playing sister Darlene Honeybird and the Black drummer Nate Williams.

When a mysterious fire breaks out in the barn where their band practices, Harlan is killed, but the question remains: If Nate also died in the fire, why was his body never recovered?

To put the songs together, McDade started with ideas and lyrics, then enlisted the help of his musician friends, including Uncle Green colleague Jeff Jensen, Jonny Daly of Michelle Malone’s band Drag the River and former AJC writer Charles Walston of the Vidalias.

“I have learned to outsource,” said McDade.

The music from “Songs by Honeybird” will be available on streaming services, or as a download. Check out peterjmcdade.com for information.

His book release party, March 31, at Waller’s Coffee Shop in Decatur, will also be a musical performance of songs by Honeybird, aka Peter McDade, et al. “It’s more just an excuse to play together, a way to turn a book launch into a party,” he said.

More than a dozen musicians will time trip back to the ‘60s and bring those songs to life, including all four members of Uncle Green.

“Doing this every four or five years is at least an excuse to put all my friends in a fictional landscape, which is a win,” he said.


BOOK RELEASE

Peter McDade. The author will discuss “Songs by Honeybird” with Jessica Handler, followed by a performance of original music inspired by the novel. 7 p.m. March 31. Free. Waller’s Coffee Shop, 240 DeKalb Industrial Way, Decatur. wallerscoffeeshop.com