'GMA' Buzz Picks: 'The Final Revival of Opal & Nev' by Dawnie Walton
If you’ve finished our “GMA” Book Club pick this month and are craving something else to read, look no further than our new digital series, “GMA” Buzz Picks. Each week, we’ll feature a new novel that we’re also reading this month to give our audience even more literary adventures. Get started with or latest pick below!
This week’s “GMA” Buzz Pick is “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” by Dawnie Walton.
Walton’s debut novel is a fictional oral history of rock ‘n’ roll duo Opal and Nev, who shot to fame in 1970s New York.
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude and embodied Afro-punk before that term existed. She meets Nev, an aspiring British singer-songwriter, after performing at a bar’s amateur night, and takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for emerging record label Rivington Records.
But when a rival band signed to Rivington Records brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert, Opal’s bold protest sets off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak their truth.
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“It’s the story of an interracial rock ‘n’ roll duo on the early 1970s New York scene. It’s about their rise, their fall and the dark secret that comes to light as they consider reuniting for a 2016 tour,” Walton told “GMA.” “For me, Opal is the real star of this book. I describe her as the Black proto-punk queen. I would have loved to put on my bedroom wall, growing up a teenager in the 1990s when I was hungry of more reflections of myself in the music that I loved. Opal is bold, she’s funny, she’s stylish, she’s a little bit messy and most importantly, she loves the skin that she’s in. She is fully herself no matter where she is, no matter who she’s with. I hope you love reading about her as much as I loved writing her.”
Get started with an excerpt and listen to a snippet of the audiobook below.
*Warning: Excerpt contains some strong language.
In this excerpt from “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev,” British singer-songwriter Nev Charles and Howie Kelly, the owner of Nev’s struggling New York City record label Rivington Records, are on a hunt for a musical partner to complement Nev. In Detroit they discover, in an amateur sister act, the woman who would change their fortunes.
The Gemini had an open-mic hour with a live backing band and that’s how we got on. Pearl would refuse to sing anything fun — for some reason she hated the word baby, she thought it was too worldly or some nonsense — so that knocked out a lot of the Motown hits right there. And honey, this was 1969, 1970 Detroit! I was trying to meet Mr. Berry Gordy! It was very reasonable that one day he would walk into the Gemini looking for his next starlets, and we’re up there singing Christmas carols?
But I always meant for it to be Pearl, I really did. She had the voice; I was just the backup. What I brought to it was the style. I tried to make her stand out, tried to teach her to sway a little with the beat. And I did our outfits. Mine was always the shorter, tighter, lower-cut version of hers. Even though, to tell you the truth, Pearl had a lot more to work with, if you know what I’m saying.
Christ, that one had a rack. You didn’t know whether you were hypnotized by the voice or the t—.
During the time we were singing at the Gemini I was still in touch with Lawrence back in Alabama, and we had already promised ourselves to each other. I had no interest in getting ogled by the men in that filthy place. Most of them were married anyway. But I was working and saving money till it seemed right to move to Birmingham for good, and to be honest, I was also trying to keep Opal out of trouble. And by trouble, that’s exactly the kind of trouble I mean. You would not believe how many of our old classmates, the girls from Mrs. Dennis’s apartment, ended up in that situation, with no husband. Opal never did have any friends, and she looked more mature than she was. Without me to look out for her, she might have been susceptible to a certain kind of wicked attention. That sinning lifestyle can be seductive.
So I tried to keep up with her as much as she’d let me. And if that meant wearing those outfits she made for Saturday nights, well, I’d humor it, long as I was covered enough.
Howie and I were sitting at a table right in front — it wasn’t a big place, and every other inconspicuous spot was taken. We sat through a couple of ho-hum acts, a guy struggling his way through Sam & Dave. … Andthen the bassist and the drummer kicked in with “To Sir with Love,” of all songs, and the Robinson girls came out.
The Coca-Cola bottle and the straw. [Laughs]
That night Pearl and I were wearing crushed velvet. Gold crushed velvet. Or maybe velour … Honey, I don’t know, whichever one of those is the cheaper fabric. I’d made Pearl a jumpsuit out of it with a top that I tried to keep fitted, so the people could see she had something. And out of the same material I’d cut myself a halter and shorts, and I took a brass chain from an old pocket watch I found at the Goodwill and I shined it up nice and wrapped it around my skinny little waist like a belt, trying to create some kind of effect. Now, “To Sir with Love” was midtempo, but me being me, I’d still find a way to shake it, you know, so that right on beat that chain would jingle like mad, as Nev would say.
She had this deep ebony skin, so any colors looked dramatic on her, I’ll give her that. And it was like music every time she moved — you just wanted to stick a tambourine in her hand and watch her go.
For years Pearl had adored “To Sir with Love” — I mean, everybody was crazy about the movie because Sidney Poitier was so damn fine, and the sentiment of it was very sweet and chaste. But don’t let the sweetness fool you — that’s a belter’s song, a big chance to show out, and Pearl used to beat it dead. You remember, though, that on the original track Lulu doesn’t have any backing vocals, so I had to make up my own part. Get in where I fit in. And when I listened to that record, I realized that a big part of it, what gave it emotion and light and air, was the strings. At the Gemini, there was obviously nobody with a damn violin in the house band. I figured, Well, then that’s my part. I’m the strings. Pearl would go loud and broad, just like Lulu, and I’d fill in high above her, floating real soft and pretty. Like painting those letters in the sky.
It’s really a sappy tune, but by the chorus I was riveted. My God. And the thing besides her singing that I remember the most was her hair. It was blue-black and shiny and obviously fake, and it fell down to her midriff. She was very energetic and moved a lot, and it would sort of shift around on her head.
OPAL JEWEL, STUDYING AN OLD FAMILY PHOTO:
Ooh, chile, those early days of me and the wigs! Looking like a vinyl record had melted on top of my head.
I remember watching her, absolutely gobsmacked, and thinking how mysterious and scrappy she was, this girl in the gold shorts and the bad wig making up her own part. This girl with the voice that flew over and through and around her sister’s so strangely.
At the end of it I go through the whole rigamarole with Nev, me asking him, “Did you like her?” This time his face looked different, though, all lit up and excited. He didn’t have to say a word. I was already gesturingtoward the Coke bottle when Nev slapped my hand down. And pointed to the straw.
From “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” by Dawnie Walton. Copyright © 2021 by Dawnie Walton. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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