Despite its title, readers do not have to be fans of Led Zeppelin to appreciate local author Christy Alexander Hallberg’s recently published debut novel, Searching for Jimmy Page. Of course, admirers of the English rock band (and its guitarist in particular), will find plenty of references to the group’s discography and career throughout the tale. But at its heart, the book is a coming-of-age story that offers an unflinching look at family, death, sexuality and the ways we connect with the living, dead and lost.
At 18, Luna Kane, the novel’s narrator, is still grappling with her mother’s suicide from 10 years prior. Raised by her religious grandmother, Luna’s extended family has all but ignored the tragedy and its lingering impact.
“My mother had committed the most unholy of sins, and her blood had marked her daughter more conspicuously than a Scarlet Letter,” Luna reveals early on in the story.
As the narration progresses, Luna reconnects with her deceased mother through their shared appreciation for Led Zeppelin and their mutual infatuation with Jimmy Page. But as the teenager falls deeper into her obsession with the musician, she develops a theory that the legendary guitarist is her long-lost father. Ultimately, Luna leaves her home in eastern North Carolina, running away to England to resolve the matter once and for all.
The novel, which took Hallberg 15 years to complete, is informed by her own childhood obsessions, though the work itself is far from autobiographical. But personal tragedies, the author notes, factored into the story’s overall themes as well as the project’s many delays.
Dark angel with a six string
Like her narrator, Hallberg grew up in the eastern part of the state, idolizing Led Zeppelin and the band’s guitarist. Her obsession began at 15, after seeing the 1976 documentary The Song Remains the Same, which captures the group’s three-night stand at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
“My immediate reaction to Jimmy was a visceral, intense experience,” she remembers. “He was this dark angel with a six string.” Meanwhile, the band’s sound provided her something “a bit more mysterious than what life in Greenville, N.C., was able to offer me in 1985.”
Joining her for that evening’s film viewing was her mother, Frances Baker Alexander, who in 2003, lost her battle with cancer. Her death coincided with Hallberg’s first semester in graduate school at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., where she was working on the initial draft of what later became Searching for Jimmy Page.
“It was a defining moment in my life,” Hallberg says of her mother’s passing. “It changed me. And I knew I’d be grappling with death in the story.”
She did not, however, anticipate the unrelenting loss that ultimately drained her of all creative energy required for the project. Though she finished a version of the story as her MFA thesis, Hallberg put the book aside for several years as she continued to mourn her mother.
In 2005, the process led the writer to England, where she hoped to meet Page in an attempt “to shake myself out of my grief.” Though she would exchange brief words with her hero inside the hall of the former Hammersmith Palais, the encounter did little to alleviate her sadness. Afterward, she began work on a memoir chronicling the journey and its connection to her mother. But the writing felt more like an act of grief therapy, Hallberg remembers, as opposed to a work of literary merit.
Over the subsequent decade, Hallberg married, moved from Greenville to Leicester and tragically endured another loss, this time the death of her husband in 2014. Throughout these life-changing experiences, the author notes, Page’s music remained a constant. And soon the urge to revisit her fictionalized account of the guitarist and his influence on the young Luna Kane returned.
Far from fan fiction
“I come from a literary background,” says Hallberg. “I never intended my novel to be fan fiction. I want people to know the story is much bigger than just chasing Jimmy Page across the globe. It’s a story about a family grappling with trauma and individuals figuring out their personal identity, using art, myth and family lore to craft their own personal narrative.”
It’s also a story that wears its artistic influences on its sleeve. Along with music, Luna’s narration is packed with literary references and allusions to such iconic authors as William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein and Jack Kerouac. Luna’s appreciation for literature creates several clever moments of metafiction throughout her narration, while Hallberg’s mastery as a writer comes to a head near the book’s end, as the author pulls off a twist that should leave readers satisfied and contemplative.
“I hope readers come away with an appreciation for the power and necessity of art,” says Hallberg. “And I’m using that as an umbrella term that encapsulates music, literature, myth — all sorts of things. Because it’s so important, the stories that we tell each other and the stories that we tell ourselves. They help shape who we are.”
To learn more about Searching for Jimmy Page, visit avl.mx/at6.