One of the best jobs Dawnie Walton said she ever had was working for Life.com, which was the digital rebirth of the classic American photography magazine.
“I was working the celebrity beat, looking at archival images of some of the biggest stars of our time,” said Walton, a writer, journalist and the Week Nine Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author. “Learning the actual, behind-the-scenes stories changed my perception of the images, and got me thinking about celebrity.”
Walton’s job at Life.com was just one of the sources of inspiration she drew on to write her novel, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, which is set in the 1970s and centers around an interracial duo’s whirlwind rise to rock music stardom.
“(In my CLSC lecture) I’ll be talking about dreaming into imagery,” she said. “For me, that means photography.”
At 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Walton will give the last CLSC lecture of the summer assembly on The Final Revival of Opal & Nev and some of the musical icons that inspired the novel’s heroine, Opal Jewel.
“I started writing the novel in 2013,” she said. “The idea specifically sparked when I was watching a documentary called ‘20 Feet From Stardom.’ It’s about background singers, most of which were Black women, who contributed to some of the biggest pop and rock hits of our time.”
At the very beginning of the film, Walton said, there’s footage of American rock band Talking Heads in concert.
“They’re one of my favorite bands,” she said. “You see David Byrne center stage, and he’s being his quirky, wonderful self. But to his left you see two Black women in gray shorts that match his suit, and they’re so joyful and so carefree and committed to this music. At that moment, I had the urge to put my hand into the screen and pull one of them to center stage.”
That image — of a white male rockstar and a Black woman who was not supporting him, but was an equal on stage — is how The Final Revival of Opal & Nev sparked into existence.
“I think it speaks to my own experience growing up as a young Black woman, loving rock ‘n’ roll, especially alternative rock ‘n’ roll, post-punk kinds of things,” she said. “I didn’t see a lot of myself reflected in that music. I wanted to dream up an idol who I would’ve loved as a teenage girl. And that was Opal.”