Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles coming to Albany to discuss novel
Former singer and guitarist of 80s all-female pop-rock band will sit down with WAMC's Joe Donahue for a conversation about life, music, writing, and the creative process
Published in the Albany Times Union Oct. 26, 2023
Reprinted with permission
As a student at University of California, Berkeley in the late 1970s, Susanna Hoffs got caught up in a love of punk rock music from artists like The Ramones and Patti Smith. “That music spoke to me,” she said. “I was emotionally moved by it, and it made me want to be an artist with even more fervor than I already had.”
In 1981 Hoffs founded The Bangles with sisters Vicki and Debbi Peterson. The pop-rock band became enormously popular in the 1980s with such hits as “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “In Your Room” and “Eternal Flame.” “My love of punk music opened up my creativity. It swept me away to just jump in and start up a band. That music changed my life.”
7 p.m. Thursday, November 9
Conversation with WAMC’s Joe Donahue Page Hall, UAlbany Downtown Campus
135 Western Avenue, Albany NY 12203
Free and open to the public. Free parking.
Books will be sold at the event and a signing
will follow the conversation
Since that time, Hoffs has continued to write music, perform and produce records, but one thing she always wanted to do was to write a novel. “I’ve been a reader my whole life. I always have a book I’m reading on my bedstand. I always have an audiobook going. It’s like an addiction, and one of my longtime goals was to try and write a novel. I discovered a long time ago that if you’re a creative person and you have a desire to do or make something then you need to seize the day and go do it.”
Her first book, “This Bird Has Flown” (Little, Brown and Company) was released this summer to excellent reviews, and she will visit the area on Thursday, Nov. 9 as part of UAlbany’s Creative Life Series sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute, University Art Museum and UAlbany Performing Arts Center.
The main character in her novel is struggling 33-year-old singer Jane Start, who had a hit song 10 years earlier but is now broke, single and contemplating a move back home with her parents. In desperation, Jane travels to London with her friend and manager Pippa to hopefully become inspired and write another hit song.
“It was important for Jane to go through her ups and downs in this book,” said Hoffs. “I liked her a lot because she’s the kind of person who always seeks the sunlight through the trees. Jane was also lucky because she had people who really cared about her like Pippa and her brother. She has people who love her and that will get you through some difficult times.”
One of Hoffs’ favorite scenes occurs near the end of the book when Jane performs in front of a sold-out crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in London. “That scene forced me to dig deep and recall my own experiences of standing on a stage with my guitar in front of a cheering audience. I remembered that my heart would be beating so intensely, I was afraid people in the audience would hear that over the speakers.”
She broke down that dramatic experience second by second to bring it alive for readers. “An audience is expecting a singer to open their mouth and have a beautiful singing voice come out, but when you’re up there with all that adrenaline you’re never quite sure what is going to happen. As a performer, it often becomes automatic to play the right chords and sing the lyrics correctly, but as a writer it was a challenge to break that down. It forced me to go back and remember in detail what that felt like.”
Music and literature have been the two great artistic loves of her life. “I obviously wanted to capture Jane’s love of music and the creativity of writing a song, but I felt I also needed to capture some of the pressure that an artist feels. It’s wonderful to acquire some fame, but there is also a dark side to the entertainment business. Artists are put on a pedestal, but you can’t be up there forever, and Jane knows how devastating that can be.”
While she was writing the book, Hoffs would wake up and give herself a pep talk before sitting down at her little card table to write. “As a reader I never realized how characters become so real to a writer. The characters I created became important people in my life, and often after spending hours writing it would take me a while to get back to planet earth. It was like I was in a trance, a happy trance, because I was also writing about the euphoria of falling in love.”
One of the reasons she loves being a musician is to see the joy her music can bring to people. “I wanted to write a novel that would do the same thing. Once the characters came to life in my imagination, I heard all their unique voices. Jane’s sense of humor was a coping mechanism. It’s baked into who she is. No matter what her hardships might be, Jane always seeks the light. She’s like a flower that blooms out of a rock, and when I began the book, I didn’t know how it would all turn out for her, but I was rooting her on to find love and happiness.”
About The Creative Life Series: Created and produced by the New York State Writers Institute, University Art Museum, and UAlbany Performing Arts Center in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, this series features leading figures from a variety of artistic disciplines in conversation with WAMC’s “Roundtable” host Joe Donahue about creative inspiration, craft, and career.
Major support for The Creative Life is provided by the University at Albany Foundation and University Auxiliary Services.