Keith Buckley: My Life In Books

The Damned Things' singer and published author picks out the books that have shaped the man he is today

Keith Buckley: My Life In Books
James MacKinnon

‘Rather than replace the battery in his watch when it dies, John Harvey decides to let go of time altogether.’ That’s the opening line to Keith Buckley’s second novel, Watch, where the protagonist decides to smash his wristwatch following the death of his child and his wife’s subsequent suicide. John spends most of the book lost in a freak blizzard between his house and a local bar, as painful memories surface and the ghosts of his past confront him.

Keith’s own life thus far has been a storied affair. From growing up with dreams of being an astronaut in Buffalo, New York, to leading Every Time I Die for the past two decades and now returning with hard rock supergroup The Damned Things. In 2015 he published his first novel, Scale, which charts the dysfunctional life of struggling rock musician Ray Goldman, a character whose entertaining and shocking actions occasionally mirrored Keith’s own. When pregnancy complications almost took the life of his wife Lindsay and their unborn child Zuzana, now a happy toddler, Keith channeled his fear and confusion into Watch and ETID’s latest album, Low Teens.

One constant throughout the songwriter and author’s life has been a fascination with language and a growing mastery of wicked turns of phrase. We asked Keith to dust off his proverbial bookshelf and pick out the tomes that have shaped him across the years…

The book that reminds me of childhood...

Coming Of Age In The Milky Way by Timothy Ferris

“My parents didn’t really read us bedtime stories – it wasn’t that kind of household – but they were always really encouraging that I wanted to read. My dad had this big bookshelf and I was obsessed with anything to do with space, because I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid, so I got this book out. It was way over my head, but while I may not have retained any of the scientific facts, I understood the importance of scientific discovery and how difficult it is for humans to accept that what they believed was wrong, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. You see that today in climate change deniers and ‘Flat Earthers’. There are people who don’t trust science – there always have been and they’re dangerous and infuriating – but those people get left behind... after they’ve sentenced true genius to death, of course.”

The book that reminds me of high school...

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

“It sounds really cliché, but finding Jack Kerouac really opened my eyes to seeing that there is a poetic spirit that cannot be refined by rules. It didn’t mean I thought it was the most brilliant or interesting, but it existed for everyone in varying degrees. Up until then my conception of literature was the books that you are mandated to read at school, but Kerouac proved that it didn’t have to be scientific. It didn’t have to be accomplished to be beautiful. His spontaneous prose was really pivotal for me, as far as writing style goes, and from there I got further into the Beat Generation. I would spend a few late-teen years trying to understand what my writing would be like if I ignored the influence of other writers.”

The book that makes me cry...

Beloved by Toni Morrison

“I don’t know if I actually shed tears, but I remember being really affected by this book when I read it in high school. I loved her use of language and the imagery she created with her words: they were so intense and clear and powerful. I think subconsciously I wanted to write like her in early Every Time I Die material.”

My favourite non-fiction book...

The Power Of Myth by Joseph Campbell

“You cannot tell a story without reading this. Actually, you can but you’re not telling it right. This is the 'science' behind human connection: to each other, to our pasts, to our futures. 'Departure, fulfillment, return.' Every story is that; every life is that. They actually made a TV series where in each episode Joseph Campbell would break down the ideas in this book and it’s all been put up on Netflix, so I’d highly recommend people go watch it.”

The book that made me a better person...

The Secret Life Of Plants by Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird

“This didn’t necessarily influence my writing, but it affected the way I look at life and that will inevitably affect my writing. One thing that really hit me is the way it outlined how plants react to negativity, not just light and moisture. It’s proof of consciousness, intelligence, in everything. Everything knows everything it needs to. When you realise that – really see that – it changes all of your relationships. You know what? I take that first part back. This made me realise that the storm in Watch was alive.”

The book that influenced Watch...

Peace by Gene Wolfe

“I think Gene Wolfe’s Peace had the most immediate influence on me, because I was reading it when the fog of early ideas I had about Watch suddenly locked into place. That was the eureka moment. But Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed was the first book I remember reading that was nonlinear and it changed the way I read. It made books more like puzzles, and unlocking them was way more exciting and fulfilling. I’ve always wanted to write like that and Scale was my first attempt.”

My desert island book...

Any book by Hermann Hesse

“Hesse is probably my favourite author and if I had an infinite amount of time I would be rereading Steppenwolf or Demian forever. Steppenwolf is the story of enlightenment before I knew what enlightenment was. It’s an absurd, surreal journey through life and death, loneliness and self and it was mystifying. If I was the main character in The Neverending Story, this would be the book that changed the world around me as I read it.”

The Damned Things' new album High Crimes is out via Nuclear Blast. Every Time I Die will play 2000 Trees Festival on July 11-13.

Keith Buckley’s second novel Watch is available now through Rare Bird Books.

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