John Wray’s new novel, “Gone to the Wolves,” starts in the swamps of Florida, veers across the country to LA’s Sunset Strip, and then crash-lands in Norway. It’s a page-turning coming-of-age story of friendship and love in the death, hair, and black metal scenes of the late 1980s to early 1990s.
“This story really started with the idea of these three friends who are oddballs and outsiders, who find their way together to each other through their passionate love for all things metal,” says Wray. “Once I realized I was going to follow these kids from their teens into their 20s I knew they were going to go from one metal scene to the next. And I just looked around and picked the three most interesting and strangest metal scenes I could find.”
In case you aren’t familiar with metal’s many scenes, don’t worry, Wray’s got you covered. “One of the fascinating things about heavy metal as a genre is that starting in about the late 1970s, into the 1980s, it started forking and dividing and creating all of these competing substrains and subcultures. And death metal is one of them. It began in the mid-1980s. And it took the sounds of bands like Mötörhead and Black Sabbath, and all these classic bands of heavy metal in the 1970s, and just made it a lot faster and a lot scarier and a lot more aggressive.”
Wray sent his three main characters — Kip, Kira and Leslie — west in search of new lives, not just because of LA’s metal scene, but also for its history as a town where anyone could start fresh.
“Tons of people came to California thinking that they would just become a different person simply by moving to the West Coast,” Wray notes. “I knew that [my characters], as these young people who were coming from a really dinky little town in Florida to Hollywood to find all the glamor of the Sunset Strip — that they've been dreaming about. I knew they were going to have to have a profound period of disillusionment.”
The scene they happen upon is in transition from hair metal to heavy metal. It’s spandex, feathered hair, flop houses and pay-to-play — all vividly described.
Wray’s writing about Los Angeles drew partly from his experiences visiting the city in his teens. “When I was in LA, starting when I was about 15 or 16, I would go to all sorts of different music shows. So for me, it's a city that's just intimately connected with going to see live music,” he shares.
To that end, Wray will be returning to the Sunset Strip for some metal and a reading from “Gone to the Wolves” at The Rainbow Bar and Grill at 7 p.m. on May 25.