“The Honeymoon Is Over”: Read an exclusive excerpt from Ben Vendetta’s new novel “Heartworm”

By on October 9, 2015

Heartworm, Ben Vendetta’s second book in a planned trilogy, puts us back inside the head of Drew, a pill popping, dope smoking, heavy drinking, music-obsessed student with journalistic aspirations, introduced to us in Ben’s first book, Wivenhoe Park.

It’s now the mid-90s, and Drew has returned home from spending a year abroad, taking classes at the University of Essex in Colchester. Just as it is in Ben’s real life, music continues to be the most important thing in Drew’s life, he continues to gravitate towards the friends who share the same taste in music, and wear the same kinds of t-shirts he does, emblazoned with the logos of their favorite bands. If there was a perfect soundtrack for soundtrack to accompany Wivenhoe Park it’s Psychocandy by Jesus and Mary Chain, which had been released right as Ben had arrived in England for his own junior year abroad in college.

Night Flight were given an exclusive excerpt from Wivenhoe Park (Cooperative Trade, 2013) earlier this year, which you can read right here.

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Heartworm takes a darker turn from Wivenhoe Park for Drew’s life trajectory, about losing some of the idealism of his youth, turning thirty and feeling lost, and escaping into the music he loves while he tries to find his place in the world. It’s about Drew trying to save his own life, and how music becomes more important than ever (when Ben Vendetta signs copies of the book, he always inscribes them with a line from the novel: “Rock and Roll saves lives.”)

This novel is set in the midst of the Britpop craze, when bands like Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and Elastica were getting more than their fair share of the ink splashed about them the UK press and tabloids, while, arguably, far more interesting bands were being mostly ignored, including Dublin, Ireland’s Whipping Boy, whose second album, Heartworm (released on November 1, 1995) provided the title for this tome, and if there’s a soundtrack for this novel, Heartworm‘s the one. The band even make appearances as real-life characters in the book.

According to Ben: “Whipping Boy rose out of a late ’80s Dublin post-punk scene that also spawned the likes of Into Paradise and Blue in Heaven. Their early EPs and 1992 debut album Submarine blend Isn’t Anything-era My Bloody Valentine with the artsy noise rock of early Sonic Youth. Though acclaimed, the records didn’t sell as much as they deserved, and the group retreated to a dingy, Dublin rehearsal room to create the best Irish rock ‘n’ roll record of all-time. Two decades later, many Irish radio, critic, and fan polls agree with my assessment.”

“I lived in Ireland in 1992-1994 and while I wasn’t friends with Whipping Boy, I would later interview their guitarist Paul Page for my fanzine Vendetta. This gave me a starting point; I would attempt to write a novel about an expat American journalist living in Dublin, who’s part of the scene that spawned bands like Whipping Boy and Into Paradise.”

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“I wanted to develop on this idea by having my character and some of his friends go through some of the issues and emotions found in the lyrics on Heartworm, the album, including addiction, betrayal, infidelity, anger, and outright violence. Heartworm was an album that saved my life when it needed saving. I was thirty and suddenly single after having been married for eight years. Most of my friends who were my age were just starting their adult lives, getting married, having kids, working serious jobs. I was back at square zero, thirty going on twenty. I was living in a small flat, working temp jobs, drinking far too much, and dating girls six to eight years younger than me.”

“While writing the novel, I was able to lock myself into that head space and relive many painful experiences, while creating new, slightly different ones for my protagonist.”

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Ben Vendetta

Here’s an exclusive excerpt from Heartworm “The Honeymoon Is Over” – illustrated with captioned photos provided by Ben Vendetta.

It’s early April and I’m flying to London. Nick came through and connected me with Rob Cherry, the editor-in-chief of Alternative Press magazine. Rob was excited about my pitch—he digs Whipping Boy—and even offered me two hundred dollars for the assignment. I didn’t tell him that I would have done it for free.

Instead of scheduling a standard phone interview, I decide to max out a credit card and do this one in person. Whipping Boy aren’t coming to America, having chosen to open for Lou Reed in Europe instead of supporting dire industrial act, Stabbing Westward, in the States. The chance to witness the London show and meet Lou is too good to pass up, bills be damned.

Heartworm is spinning on my Discman and I’ve gone through several miniature bottles of airplane red, not the best cocktail for inducing happiness, but I find Fearghal’s words therapeutic. They’re forcing me to unlock painful memories buried deep in my psyche. The album has become an ally of sorts, my shrink.

“The Honeymoon is Over” is spinning now, a doomed ballad reminiscent of Nick Cave at his finest. Fearghal sings, “The honeymoon is over and you’re still with me,” and I’m immediately transported to the early stages of my relationship with Claire. I can pinpoint when it all went wrong and wonder why we bothered to keep trying. Most relationships are diseased compromises. Some people bail when the spark is gone, hoping to rekindle the fire with someone else, while others suffer in silence, dying slow deaths, too stubborn to admit defeat.

Bewley's on Grafton Street
Bewley’s on Grafton Street

Our first year together was the best. Claire and I were working part-time at her uncle’s pub in Dublin, living rent free in a beautiful gate lodge in Killiney, situated on her uncle’s property. We didn’t have much and didn’t seem to need it. Once a week we would go to Bewley’s on Grafton Street and order an overpriced tea service with scones and assorted jams. That was our only vice. Other nights we’d take a long walk on the picturesque Killiney Road, ending up at the Dalkey Island Hotel for a quiet pint or two. Then Claire and my parents talked me into finishing school in Michigan.

Aerial scenic shot of the road leading to the hotel
Aerial scenic shot of the road leading to the hotel

“It’s only a year, and it will give you more career options,” Claire said. She was too cute to say no to back then, so I succumbed.

Going back to Ann Arbor after two years abroad felt like returning home from ‘Nam. As soon as the plane landed, I was jonesing to get back across the pond. I felt like Walken in The Deer Hunter, fixing for a game of Russian roulette. Just before classes started, we saw an amazing triple bill, consisting of Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, and Gene Loves Jezebel, at a goofy outdoor venue called Pine Knob, located in the wilderness halfway between Detroit and Flint. The music was great, but the atmosphere made me sad, damn near suicidal. Before the show, I noticed some stoners in the parking lot drinking beer, passing around a joint, listening to the Cult. They were blasting out the ballad “Revolution” and it may as well have been something trite like “American Pie.” The kids were okay, but the atmosphere got to me. Everything felt so ‘American,’ so alien, and it made me homesick for a place I barely knew.

Claire took to America though. She worked at Urban Outfitters while I finished my degree. I’m pretty sure every remotely cool guy in Ann Arbor had a massive crush on her. Claire liked being the center of attention. She stood out with her unique accent and impeccable fashion sense, so our planned one year in Michigan somehow morphed into three. Eventually, Claire got tired of working retail and decided to go back to school. In retrospect, I should have known better; a woman going back to school can be a kiss of death to even the strongest relationship. I had been working at a record store and freelancing for Spin, and while I wasn’t unhappy, I jumped at the opportunity to return to Ireland, even promising to get a real job. During the Christmas holiday Claire and I got married in Belfast at a small civil ceremony in a courthouse, attended by family and a few close friends.

Shot of Vico Road (Killiney Road merges into Vico road as you make your way down the hills to the village of Dalkey) -- this shot captures memories I have of the walks I would take with my ex-wife (i mean Drew would take with Claire
Vico Road (Killiney Road merges into Vico road as you make your way down the hills to the village of Dalkey) — this shot captures memories I have of the walks I would take with my ex-wife (I mean Drew would take with Claire:-))

Rock ‘n’ roll’s sharp, unforgiving claws were still buried deep in my skin. I started writing for Hot Press again, continued to take assignments for Spin, and had more late nights than I should have had working a nine-to-five job. Claire and I began to drift apart. She took her studies seriously. Like my father, her dad was a professor. We laughed about this when we first met, but the joke wasn’t so funny when it became clear that she wanted a lifestyle I wasn’t on board with.

This made her insecure, often mean. She frowned on me having a social life, constantly telling me that if I really loved her, I wouldn’t need anyone or anything else. While it was okay for her to socialize with classmates, she thought my passion for music was downright pathetic. On more than one occasion she told me I had become a sad, old rock ‘n’ roller. Even my office job wasn’t good enough for her. She thought I wasn’t making enough money working for a non-profit and became convinced that I should get a job in finance. At one point she dragged me out to buy a set of wicker furniture, convinced that having a grown up flat would somehow transform me into the young professional of her dreams.

The Dalkey Island Hotel which sadly no longer exists -- torn down to make room for condos
The Dalkey Island Hotel which sadly no longer exists — torn down to make room for condos

In the evenings I was expected to be at her beck and call, ready to make tea at a moment’s notice when she needed a study break. If I left the flat to see a gig, there’d be hell to pay. I’d get the cold treatment for days on end. Then her mom died. The final nail in the coffin.

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Ben Vendetta has been writing — mostly about rock ‘n’ roll — for his entire adult life for a number of publications, including The Big Takeover and Skyscraper. He published Vendetta Magazine from 1995 to 2002 and was the director of publicity at Dionysus Records before co-founding independent record label, Elephant Stone Records, with his wife Arabella Proffer-Vendetta.

Heartworm and Wivenhoe Park are both available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records. Listen to Ben’s imaginary soundtrack for Heartworm here.

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.