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Life & Arts

'It's written like an album': Robi Polgar's upcoming novel created a rock band

bootleggersposter.jpg
Robi Polgar

Robi Polgar’s new multimedia art project is very much still a work in progress, but he’s ready to start sharing some of it with the Austin community. The work centers around The Bootleggers, a slightly-under-the-radar Austin rock band from back in the day. If you can’t quite place them, it’s not your faulty memory — it’s because Polgar created the band for his upcoming novel.

“I’m writing a book, and it’s called The Bootleggers: The Real True Story of the Greatest Band You Never Heard Of," Polgar says. "And it’s about this band in Austin from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. They’re sort of, you know, second-tier. No one really knows them but they’re always around. And in 1974, they go out west on a tour and they get lost in the desert and they’re never heard from again. Gone, presumed dead.”

The story picks up decades later, when Eddie and Billy, The Bootleggers’ recording engineer and roadie, find a previously unheard song by the band; it starts to get some traction on the radio, and before you know it, the two are creating a phony version of their old band in hopes of passing it off as the real thing.

“They’re gonna bootleg The Bootleggers and send ‘em off to California,” Polgar says. “And that’s where all the crazy stuff starts.”

Polgar is a musician as well as a writer (his band The Late Joys has been performing in Austin for years) and his upcoming book comes from a love for music and a bit of nostalgia for a now-gone era in rock and roll. So it was natural for that love and nostalgia to find its way into the format of the novel itself. “It’s written like an album,” Polgar says. “It’s got side a and side b, six chapters per side. And at the end of each chapter is a song. And I’ve written all the songs, and my thought was ‘you know, the writing is still happening – I’m about halfway done with the novel – but I’d really like to get the songs performed.’”

To make that happen, The Late Joys are going to pretend to be the band that’s pretending to be The Bootleggers. “It’s like a hall of mirrors,” Polgar says with a laugh.

“We got some ringers [Jeremy Menking and Heath Allyn] in to play some lap steel and keys and we’re gonna do all the songs from the show,” he says. “Interspersed with readings from the book [performed by Travis Dean]. It’s part literary, part theatrical, it’s got lots and lots of music. It’s gonna be funny. The music’s gonna make you want to dance. I think altogether it’s gonna be a good experience.”

To further extend the illusion, Polgar’s also offering official “bootleg” Bootleggers recordings for sale. “We have cassettes that we ‘bootlegged’ of the band at a club,” he says. “We’re just gonna get into that whole mindset of being back in the diy ‘70s, ’80s thing where you could kind of come across some crazy unknown band out of the blue.”

What you won’t be able to buy, though – at least not quite yet – is the novel The Bootleggers: The Real True Story of the Greatest Band You Never Heard Of. That’s still not quite finished, Polgar says. “The story’s done; it’s just me being lazy,” he says. “I had two years in the lockdown, you know, to sit there and stew on it and write it. And… it didn’t happen. Well, it happened a little bit. It happened half[way]. But I do know what the story is and where it goes. It’s a love story and it’s a story of betrayal and it’s a ghost story, and it’s also completely rock and roll.”

The Bootleggers' one-night-only reunion show is Saturday, April 9 at the Carousel Lounge.

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